By Dan Pompei
Other owners are more accountable to their fans. Other general managers have owners who ask questions and demand results.
And then there is Jerry Jones, who answers to no one. The owner/general manager of the Dallas Cowboys is the updated version of Al Davis, without the white jump suit and ducktail, or George Halas, without the fedora and glasses. Like those NFL icons, he is a visionary whose presence has benefited the game greatly. It's pretty safe to say he will be inducted in the Pro Football Hall of Fame one day. And like those men, he is the legislative, executive and judicial branch of his team's government.
That means Jones, the self-made billionaire in charge of the most valuable asset in American sports, can do and say as he pleases.
Who else could say he has done some of his best work over the last several years, when the Cowboys have not had a winning record since 2009, and are 5-5 this year?
Who else could listen to sports talk radio all the time and wallow in the pain, as Jones says he does?
Who else could say firing the defensive coordinator last offseason doesn't look so good right now?
Who else could call a 51-48 loss to the Broncos a moral victory, and then leave others to clean up the mess?
Only Jones, who is impervious to criticism. The benefit of being Jerry Jones? He can operate with complete freedom. The downside of being Jerry Jones? He can operate with complete freedom. Jones can take risks like no one else without fear of repercussion. Mistakes don't cost him like they cost everyone else. So Jones plays owner a little like Brett Favre played quarterback, gunslinger-style.
Jones, though, should be judged by actions and results, not words. Like Halas, Jones understands the value of promoting the game. In a bygone era, Halas used to hand-deliver stories to Chicago newspaper offices. Jones hand delivers headlines in another way. He will talk until questions run dry, until his voice is a whisper, until the sun peaks over the horizon, until the Cowboys come home.
But what does it mean when he says Jason Garrett will be back in 2014? Unless Jones backs up his words on paper, it only means he wants his players to respect the coaches and play hard. The way I heard it, he was talking to the locker room when he said that, not Garrett, not the season ticket holders.
When Jones makes the actual decision on Garrett in January, he won't be bound by something he said in November. If the Cowboys don't turn it on, bold moves could be coming. The Cowboys have won one playoff game in the last 17 years.
Since Jones started running all aspects of the Cowboys in 1994 after Jimmy Johnson's departure, the team is 167-147. Jones' greatest move as it pertains to the Cowboys winning remains hiring Johnson in 1989 and getting the hell out of his way.
That's what separates Jones from Halas and Davis. Halas presided over eight championships. He retired as the winningest coach in history. He acquired more hall of famers than anyone. Davis led the Raiders to the best record in football between 1963 and 1991, and he won three Super Bowls.
But like both of those men, Jones made larger contributions to his franchise and the game. It's safe to say the NFL would not be near as vital had Jerry Jones not come along. He has made the Cowboys the most profitable franchise in American sports, with revenue of $539 million last year according to Forbes. His ideas have helped the NFL realize much more of its marketing and sponsorship potential. Jones built a stadium that is the envy of every team. He has been a powerful voice in collective bargaining issues as a member of the league's management council.
What Jones wants most though, is to dominate Cowboys opponents the way he has dominated financially. He recently said he plans on continuing as general manager for the next 15-20 years, until he is between 86 and 91 years old.
Davis had control of the Raiders long after the point when he was helping the team succeed, and his franchise subsequently lost both pride and poise. Halas had the grace to step down from coaching permanently at the age of 72, and backed off from managing the team seven years later. But the Bears went through the darkest period in their history when an aging Halas still had control of the team.
Imagine 90-year-old Jerry Jones wheeling and dealing on draft day. Sometimes, checks and balances are a good thing.
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Dan Pompei has covered more than 500 NFL games, including 26 Super Bowls. He is one of 44 members on Pro Football Hall of Fame selectors board and one of nine members on the seniors committee. He was given the 2013 Dick McCann Award by the Pro Football Writers of America for long and distinguished reporting in the field of pro football. Follow him on Twitter @danpompei.