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Peter King
August 27, 1990
A pair of preseason losses signaled that Dallas may not improve much on its 1-15 record of 1989
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August 27, 1990

Still A Long Way To Go

A pair of preseason losses signaled that Dallas may not improve much on its 1-15 record of 1989

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•In April, Dallas dealt second-and third-round draft picks to the 49ers for Flagler, defensive end Daniel Stubbs and two draft picks. Stubbs should be a solid starter, but the coaching staff has found Flagler, who was projected to start, to be sullen and a poor inside runner. Even a 69-yard kickoff return against the Raiders won't save him, unless he finishes the exhibition season with a flourish.

•The unresolved situation at running back is killing the team. After Herschel Walker was dealt to Minnesota last October, Dallas completed '89 by starting, in succession, Darryl Clack, Paul Palmer and Broderick Sargent at tailback. The Cowboys did not include one tailback among the 37 players they were allowed to protect under the Plan B free-agency system. Instead, they signed free agent Timmy Smith (the Timmy Smith who as a Washington Redskin rushed for 204 yards in the '88 Super Bowl) for a $5,000 bonus, signed Plan B free agent Keith Jones, traded for Flagler, made Emmitt Smith of Florida their first-round draft pick and traded for former Miami Dolphin Lorenzo Hampton.

Jones went down—and out for the season—with a knee injury in July. Flagler has one foot out the door, and Emmitt Smith was still unsigned as of Monday. The guys picked up, as insurance, Hampton and Timmy Smith, have looked the best, but the position remains unsettled. The player the Cowboys would love to have is the Houston Oilers' versatile back, Alonzo Highsmith. Johnson can dream, can't he?

•The offensive line is so lacking in depth that while on a jog with his staff last week at the Cowboys' temporary camp in San Diego, Johnson decided to move third-year defensive tackle Mark Walen to guard. Walen hadn't played on offense since high school.

•All three receivers who have started thus far—wideouts Rod Harris and Dennis McKinnon and tight end Jay Novacek—were signed as Plan B free agents.

•Johnson and his assistants spent most of January and March scouting college players, specifically looking for impact players on defense. But without the No. 1 pick in the draft-Dallas forfeited its 1990 first-round selection last July when it took Walsh out of Miami in the supplemental draft—the Cowboys couldn't get the lineman they needed, defensive tackle Cortez Kennedy of Miami. In fact, they didn't take a defensive player until the third round, when they chose tackle Jimmie Jones of Miami.

When Jones axed Tom Landry last year and brought some managers from his oil and gas business into the Cowboy front office, the rest of the league thought, What a ruthless bumpkin. Given the sweeping changes he has made—easing out club president Tex Schramm, trading Walker, moving training camp from Thousand Oaks, Calif., to Austin—the question around Dallas is, How patient can this man be? Very patient, he says.

"I'm from the business world," says Jones, "and deals I make can take up to five years before you know if they pan out. Here's an example: In 1986 I opened an oil and gas exploration business in Calgary. I knew with the overhead and startup costs we wouldn't have positive cash flow for at least five years. We went in there prepared to spend between $15 million and $25 million a year to make it work.

"Today, we're drilling lots of holes up there and hitting some, but we still haven't recouped anywhere near our original investment. I don't know if we will. But if I let all the dry holes in my life get me down, I'd never have done it. You've just got to be tolerant of failure."

Director of player personnel Bob Ackles is a holdover from the previous regime. "Before, there was always a concern about getting screwed in a deal," says Ackles. "So we didn't make them. In 1987 we traded with the Seahawks for a tackle, Ron Essink. We gave them a fifth-round pick. Essink quit a couple of days after he got here. That just about ended trades for us. To Tom Landry, a fifth-round pick was so important. To Jimmy, he just figures he can get three of them on draft day if he really needs them."

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