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"I am so grounded in the thinking that higher payrolls don't win Super Bowls. I've never experienced success throwing money at players. I never see myself [being a Steinbrenner].''
"Welcome to the Yankees.''
How does Dallas trading for and signing wideout Roy Williams transition, six-degrees-of-separation style, into a lockout of the players by the owners in 2011? It may not, but I'm here to tell you the danger of a job action hangs over the league and is beginning to influence many business decisions the owners and player agents are making, and this Williams deal is a big example.
I said a few months ago I'm not going to write about labor much in advance of the ugly times that are coming, and I won't. Give me a few paragraphs here, and then we'll get on to football. You'll recall that the NFL will play with a salary cap in 2009 and then, if there is not a new labor deal negotiated by the end of that season, the league will have no salary cap in 2010. That could well morph into a lockout in 2011 because the players are on record as saying once they experience life with no salary cap, they're not going to back to a system with one. And the owners, I feel sure, would rather not play than agree to a cap-less collective bargaining agreement. Thus the chance of a lockout.
Well, receiver Roy Williams signed a six-year, $54-million extension with the Cowboys on Saturday night, before playing in his first debacle -- er, game -- with Dallas at St. Louis on Sunday. The key to the deal for Dallas was making the Williams' cap number palatable this year and next, when there will be a cap, but not worrying much about 2010 and beyond. The key for Williams' agent, Ben Dogra, was to get as much money as he could by the end of 2010. And in salary and bonuses, Dogra succeeded; Williams will earn $27 million by the end of the 2010 season. When Dogra met Williams to explain the deal Saturday night, he told him, "You're going to earn $27 million before a lockout, if a lockout happens.''
Williams' deal ratchets up the Cowboys' 2010 current cap obligations, with 33 player contracts signed, to $138.8 million, which is $27 million more than any other team in football -- and that doesn't include the monster contract due premium pass-rusher DeMarcus Ware early in 2009; he could become the highest-paid defensive player in football. "Looks like Jerry's pretty sure there won't be a cap in 2010,'' one capologist for another NFL team said Friday. Surely some of his contracted players (Zach Thomas and Terrell Owens, for two) may not be around then, but it's still by far the most onerous cap situation in 2010. (The rival Giants, for instance, have 29 players under contract for 2010, for a total of $70 million.) Add to all of this the fact that the players, after the death of Gene Upshaw in August, won't have a labor leader to begin negotiations until sometime next year, and what we have here is a league on a fast track to a capless 2010. And trouble.
I talked to Jones about the Williams trade Friday, and when I floated my theory, he clammed up because the owners can't say anything, per league edict, about any part of the strategy over negotiations for a new CBA. "You can say it,'' he said. "I can't.'' Over the weekend, I asked a confidant of many of the owners, sports management consultant Marc Ganis of Chicago-based SportsCorp Ltd., what he thought.
"The owners have hope," he said, "but not an expectation that the players recognize the landscape in the NFL has changed, and a lot of teams are in major debt, and that the world economy has changed. But by and large, the owners think the players won't recognize the economic conditions have changed. There is unanimity among the owners not to break the union, or not to go to war. But the issue is, as it has been, whether expenses [like new stadiums] get calculated before the pie is split. The owners will be solid on that.'' Ganis also said, "The owners will never agree to a new CBA without a cap.''
Now for some football ... but I'm just warning you. The storm is coming. I can't believe it'll come to a lockout because of how healthy the game is. But stranger labor stoppages have happened.
The Cowboys are on their way to being dysfunctional. They might already be there. It was Jones, not the coaching staff, on the field in St. Louis long before Sunday's loss to the Rams watching quarterback Tony Romo, seeing if he was fit enough to be the second quarterback. Jones judged that he was. So Romo was No. 2, but he never got off the bench with his broken right pinkie to save the day for Dallas.
Jones stridently said that Wade Phillips' job is not endangered after losing 34-14 to the Rams. But he also told me, just as stridently, that he would not be trading for a wide receiver nine days before he dealt for Williams. Jones spoke to the team after the game Sunday, and his message was a mix of anger, disappointment and pep. But he's not going to stand for more than a Sunday or two more of what he's seen over the last month, when Dallas is 1-3 and struggled to defeat winless Cincinnati.
Williams was no help Sunday, and he was shut out for the first time in his NFL career. Jones dealt first, third- and sixth-round picks to Detroit for Williams and a seven. The six and seven are window-dressing. The one and three are the meaningful picks. This year, those picks for Dallas would have been the 28th and 92nd picks, and those two picks had guaranteed money and bonuses totaling $6 million. Williams just signed for guarantees of $24.6 million. And yes, he should be worth the 28th and 92nd picks in terms of on-field value.
But there's the larger question of whether NFL teams can win consistently by building with stars. Dallas did it in the 1990s, but the Cowboys also developed a bevy of talented down-the-line players or low-cost free-agents (Leon Lett, Larry Brown, Erik Williams, Jay Novacek). In the current chemistry experiment, it'll be interesting to see if Romo can approximate the efficiency, deep-strike capability and ball security of Troy Aikman. Marion Barber needs to be the masher Emmitt Smith was deep into games. Terrell Owens will have to co-exist with Williams. Someone's going to have to defend the pass.
"We feel good about where our priorities are,'' Jones said Friday. "We think we're building a strong team around a very good quarterback. The price for Williams, we think, is this: When you trade a one a year from now, it's like a two because you're getting a year out of him before you pay for it. The trade fits us in every way.''
The Cowboys have collected a lot of famous and talented players. The chemistry experiment is the same as it was at the end last year: Can Jerry and Wade make them win?