Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones is not above saying “I told you so” and taking victory laps.
So you will have to indulge him right now for feeling pretty good about what has transpired over the last five weeks, considering what was said about him and the Cowboys when they were 3-5 and seemingly left for dead.
Critics ripped him for giving up too much to Oakland in a bye-week trade for receiver Amari Cooper. A first-round pick for a player with diminishing numbers, inconsistent hands and questionable passion?
A seemingly-desperate Jones was accused of being snookered by Raiders coach Jon Gruden.
And then when the Cowboys lost 28-14 to the Tennessee Titans in Cooper’s first game to drop to 3-5, the howls got worse.
In an attempt to defend coach Jason Garrett against calls for him to be fired, Hall of Fame quarterback Troy Aikman, who led the Cowboys to three Super Bowls, took dead aim at the owner. He said there needed to be a complete organizational overhaul.
Now the Cowboys are riding a five-game winning streak and sitting in the driver’s seat of the NFC East at 8-5 and a two-game lead with three games to go. They are coming off their toughest stretch of the season and a 29-23 overtime victory against the Philadelphia Eagles in which Cooper had 10 catches for 217 yards and three touchdowns of 28 and 75 yards in the fourth quarter and the walk-off winner from 15 yards in the overtime.
Damn right, Jones has not forgotten about what was said about him and the Cowboys.
“I can’t tell you how pleased I am from our fans to everybody involved that he is such a complete player for us,” Jones said. “When you see him not make much, not have many plays, not have many targets early and then turn around and change the game like that then you realize what kind of impact that he can have. So I’m proud for everybody out there. The first thing I saw (quarterback) Dak (Prescott) smiling and said, ‘Boy, we like that Cooper, buddy!’
So it’s a good feeling. That is far cry from a month ago isn’t it on a house cleaning…on a house cleaning.”
Jones laughed heartily after repeating house cleaning.
But while Jones likes proving people wrong, he says he understands where the criticism was coming from.
“I completely understand when I was getting criticized and there was talk about cleaning house,” Jones said. “I completely understood that. You have to win games. Jason Garrett needs to win some games and win some playoff games and he will be thought of in a way that I want him to be thought of as a coach. It’s the same things I have been criticized for. You got to show it. If you can’t do that you are going to always be criticized. You just got stay in there and get with it.”
But again, Jones doesn’t deny feeling good about showing his critics he was right and they were wrong.
“I think a big part of doing things with the desire to excel is to show them,” Jones said. “I think that’s a major motivating factor, to show them. I think the way sports and football is — it just gives you a chance when people say ‘I don’t like that move, that’s not smart.’ I like this stuff. As a matter of fact, I make my worst grades when I’m being praised.”
Regarding Cooper, Jones doesn’t mind being accused of overpaying for him because he said he frequently overpays for quality and compared his addition to the Cowboys to that of defensive end Charles Haley and Deion Sanders on the Super Bowl teams of the 1990s.
The Cowboys won their first two Super Bowls in 1992 and 1993 after acquiring Haley in a trade from the San Francisco 49ers to shore up a defense and balance a team led by offensive stars in Aikman, running back Emmitt Smith and receiver Michael Irvin.
The addition of Sanders as a free agent from San Francisco helped them secure their last Super Bowl in 1995.
The Cowboys have won three playoff games in 23 years since, but Cooper has Jones dreaming big again.
“I think Haley was the one that I thought impacted our team the most,” Jones said. “Sometimes you bring guys on. I thought bringing on Deion was a major difference in our team and made a major difference in the team. This team, at the time, for a receiver of that caliber, for one that we would have liked to have had with that pick anyway six months later, that was just a golden opportunity. The other thing is I’ve just never bought anything of quality that I bought cheaply, never. You go around Dallas and they’ll tell you I was a mad man. But you’ve got to go. You’ve got to pay for it.”
Cooper has proven to be worth it.
He has caught 40 of 53 targets for 642 yards, a 16-yard average, with touchdowns of 4, 40, 90, 28, 75 and 15 yards in six games with the Cowboys. His receiving yards since joining the Cowboys are the most in the NFL over that span.
“Not that any one guy is a difference maker. But I remember when we brought in Deion Sanders. Deion Sanders was a difference maker. (Former coach) Chan Gailey (probably, Barry Switzer) told me, ‘thanks for Superman’.” He was a difference maker. Some time that skill can be a difference. I get in trouble making comparisons. All I am doing is Charles Haley, Deion Sanders and whatever you want to say. I am not going to make a comparison. Those difference makers can be the difference.
“Cooper makes us make those big plays. He lets us make those big plays. And he makes the defense adjust because of the threat of it. It doesn’t work unless he goes out and makes some of the big plays. He is making big plays. He is altering the defense. There is no question about. He makes everybody better on both sides of the ball. But you got to make the big plays. You can see he is a difference maker.”
And a vindicator of Jones from his critics.