Dallas Cowboys

It’s time the Cowboys learn from the Rams’ Super Bowl blueprint and act on these changes

It’s no secret that the Los Angeles Rams have used, and copied, the Dallas Cowboys in their approach to business and the marketing of their $5 billion stadium project from the use of Jerry Jones’ Legends Hospitality company.

Considering that the Rams are in Super Bowl LIII just two years after moving from St. Louis and hiring coach Sean McVay following a 4-12 effort in 2016, Jones and the Cowboys might want to start taking a page out of their playbook.

And it has to be more than just promoting ‘young phenom’ quarterbacks coach Kellen Moore to offensive coordinator to try to channel some of McVay’s new-age offensive creativity.

The Cowboys need to copy the Rams’ exhaust-all-avenues mentality in building the roster to make a run to the Super Bowl.

Unlike Cowboys vice president Stephen Jones, who openly shuns making splashy moves in free agency and prefers to build the Cowboys through the draft, the Rams swung for the fences following an 11-5 breakthrough season in 2017 and are now reaping the rewards of being one win away from their second Super Bowl title. They won after the 1999 season as the St. Louis Rams.

“I think most teams in the NFL build the core of their team, the foundation of it is built through the draft,” Rams general manager Les Snead said. “And then at that point in time, you got to figure what window you are in and then maybe supplement with the other ways you can acquire players. What I did know in 17 is we had a breakthrough. And this offseason it was okay, let’s improve on 2017’s breakthrough.”

Improve, they did.

Since last February, the Rams traded defensive lineman Robert Quinn and linebacker Alec Ogletree, traded for cornerback Marcus Peters, cornerback Aqib Talib, receiver Brandin Cooks and linebacker Vic Beasley, and signed safety Sam Shields, Ndamukong Suh and running back C. J. Anderson in free agency.

And that’s in addition to placing the franchise tag on Lamarcus Joyner, signing cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman to a three-year, $15.75-million extension, signing Cooks to a five-year, $81-million extension, running back Todd Gurley to a four-year, $60-million extension, right tackle Rob Havenstein to four-year, $32.5-million extension and defensive tackle Aaron Donald to a six-year, $135-million extension.

Now contrast that to the Cowboys in 2016 when they had a similar breakthrough season with a 13-3 record behind two rookie sensations in quarterback Dak Prescott and running back Ezekiel Elliott. The Cowboys had a first-round bye and lost in the divisional playoffs to the Green Bay Packers.

But rather than build on their success, the Cowboys basically stood pat and brought the same team back with no major additions, even though they knew Elliott was facing a six-game suspension.

The result was a 9-7 finish and no playoff game.

After going 10-6 in 2018 and winning the NFC East for the second time in three years, Jones is again relying on the same conservative strategy.

His focus is to prioritize the Cowboys’ own free agents and players from contract extensions rather than to make significant outside additions.

“I think our hands are going to be full paying our players,” Stephen Jones said in the days after the season-ending loss to the Rams in the divisional playoffs. “People may not like it but we’re not big advocates of free agency. I don’t think we make our living out here paying for free agents. I don’t see that being the case especially because we got some really good football players on our team that need to be paid.

“It doesn’t mean we won’t play free agency at all. We just won’t be paying a high-profile free agent more than likely. You never rule anything out all the way but I wouldn’t necessarily say that’s going to be our strategy going into the offseason.”

The Cowboys have roughly $50 million in cap room and a number of players they want to address, led by free agent defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence as well as possible extensions for Prescott, Elliott and receiver Amari Cooper.

But the Cowboys are in a similar place that the Rams were in last year with a number of big-time contract decisions on their own team like Donald and Gurley. They won the division but lost in the wild-card round to the Atlanta Falcons. Unlike the Cowboys, who seem to be prepared to stand pat again, the Rams felt they were close and decided to dramatically alter their roster to get over the top.

“Here are the facts. We won the division,” Snead said. “What we wanted to do was win the division again. We wanted to improve upon not getting the bye last year. But we did know and were confident in the belief that we could win the division. That is step one. We felt doing these moves really gives us a chance to win the division and then we get there, actually win in the playoffs.”

Winning in the playoffs is something the Cowboys haven’t done since their last Super Bowl title following the 1995 season.

They have just four playoff wins since 1996, including two since 2014, and have not gotten past the divisional round in 23 years.

Maybe they can learn and copy from the Rams this time rather than the other way around.

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Clarence E. Hill Jr. has covered the Dallas Cowboys as a beat writer/columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram since 1997. That includes just two playoff wins, six coaches and countless controversies from the demise of the dynasty teams of the 1990s through the rollercoaster years of the Tony Romo era until Jason Garrett’s process Cowboys.