1. Will the Cowboys be the dynasty of the '90s?
If ever a team looked dynastic, it's these Cowboys. They have the youthful promise of the Pittsburgh Steelers of the '70s, the dynamic skill players of the San Francisco 49ers of the '80s, and the perfect coach and organization for the no-nonsense '90s. Dallas won the Super Bowl by five touchdowns, but coach Jimmy Johnson won't allow his team to get fat and happy. One spring day, cornerback and special-teams ace Issiac Holt, annoyed at Johnson's endless "voluntary" off-season workouts, dryly asked a member of the Dallas staff which workouts he could skip and which were mandatory. It took Johnson about five minutes to decide his next move, which was to call three cornerback-hungry teams and offer them Holt for a late-round draft choice. They all declined. The next morning, Johnson called Holt into his office and cut him.
"I like Ike," Johnson says, "but I had to do what was best for the Cowboys. When successful organizations fall, I think it's because of two things. One, people feel they're more important than they really are, when the reason they've won is because the team won. Two, they don't work as hard. On this team, if the players don't work as hard or harder than the year before, they know I'll cut them."
But there's a third reason for the fall of the powerful as the NFL enters its 74th season: the new collective bargaining agreement, which will introduce a potential team destroyer in 1994, the salary cap. The cap has east a dark cloud over the Super Bowl champs because it has deprived them of their franchise running back, Emmitt Smith, who spent all summer holding out for a salary befitting his status as the two-time defending NFL rushing champ. In the past, owner Jerry Jones might have given Smith the keys to the safe. Not anymore. "I will never make a decision in 1993 that will hurt me when the new day dawns in the NFL in 1994," Jones says. "What if I pay Emmitt $500,000 more than we can afford if we want to keep our salary structure intact? When you negotiate today, you're making roster decisions for tomorrow."
Jones is determined to build a long-haul team with a salary structure to fit stars, valuable players and significant middle-class players. And so he faces the ultimate Catch-22 with his number 22. He has a collective eight years left of very market-friendly deals with his three other big stars—Troy Aikman, Michael Irvin and Charles Haley—paying each of them less than $2 million a year. If he pays Smith, say, $3.8 million a year for three years, what's to prevent Irvin from holding out next year, demanding a substantial raise from his $1.25 million salary. And because he'll be near the salary cap, how will Jones sign his valuable 1994 free agents? On the other hand the Cowboys need Smith and the 23 carries and 102 yards per game he has averaged in the last two years. "Without him," Irvin says, "it'll be ugly for us. If we want to beat the Goliaths, we've got to have a great slingshot. Emmitt's the rock in our slingshot."
The solution, Jones believes, is to hold firm on Smith and hope that he can say to his vets next year: See? There's value in playing for the Cowboys. We win championships. We've paid Irvin, Smith and Haley below market, and they can make up the difference with playoff and off-the-field money.
Even if the Cowboys conquer the payroll dilemma, their luck has to hold if they are to maintain greatness. The Cowboys of '92 were the most injury-free championship team of recent NFL history, with their eight key offensive players—Aikman, Smith, Irvin, John Gesek, Erik Williams, Alvin Harper, Daryl Johnston and Jay Novacek—missing a total of zero games. There wasn't a significant injury on defense either, and if there had been, it might not have mattered: The defense shuttled 19 fresh bodies in and out of games regularly. So invincible did Dallas seem, in fact, that Philadelphia Eagle owner Norman Braman ordered his team torn down and reconstructed at season's end, despite five straight seasons of double-digit wins. "I was convinced we couldn't beat Dallas with the team we had," he said.
We love Dallas to repeat this year, but we don't love Dallas in the mid-'90s. We'll love the team that collects the most great transients between now and the year 2000.
2. Are the Buffalo Bills still breathing?
Over the last three off-seasons Buffalo quarterback Jim Kelly has not watched a replay of a single down of any of the Bills' three straight Super Bowl losses. "I can't," he says. "When I see highlights, I have to turn away. I'll never watch them."