Gil LeBreton

Cowboys problems are of Owner Jones’ making

This one Sunday was for all the numbers guys.

The ones who looked at the Dallas Cowboys’ off-season retooling and thought it added up to a 10-6 or 11-5 season for The Best Team That Jerry Jones Can Buy.

This one, too, was for all the guys who bought into the preseason fluff about new defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, age 73, who was installing a system that everyone else said would take at least two years.

And this one — Sunday’s demoralizing 49-17 loss to the New Orleans Saints — was for all those who trust in the magic powers of Tony Romo, an alleged Top Five quarterback.

One of the primary trusters, Owner Jones, gave Romo the richest contract in franchise history in the off-season, and thereafter didn’t have enough salary cap money left over to bolster the defense.

In case, you know, a defensive player gets injured. You never know.

Seldom in 54 seasons has the Cowboys franchise suffered such a sobering defeat. Its timing was distressing. The margin of defeat tells a story far more concerning that just another November loss.

Though he was factually correct, it was embarrassing to hear New Orleans coach Sean Payton toss the Cowboys a sympathy bone, by saying after the game, “The team we played was pretty banged up.”

Injuries are a part of every NFL team’s season story. In the Cowboys’ case, it now begs the question, how did Jones’ team get caught so desperately short? Where is the roster depth on defense? Who’s the next man up?

He could be anywhere, we have learned. The Cowboys couldn’t afford any Next Men Up. Owner Jones has backed the team into such a salary cap corner that there was no room to build an insurance plan into Kiffin’s defense.

That and, oh, yeah — on draft day, Jones ignored the defensive line early and picked a center and another tight end.

For the numbers guys, the ones who have Romo in their fantasy leagues and think he can do no wrong, here’s something more to ponder:

Is the fact that Jones gave Romo a six-year, $108 million contract, instead of spreading the salary cap cash around at other positions, causing roster problems now with all the injuries?

So here the Cowboys sit, their 5-5 record perfectly embodying their season to date. There have been moments of promise, mixed with Sundays of humble pie.

Yes, Drew Brees and the Saints were spectacular Sunday night. But they were supposed to be a team that the Cowboys could measure themselves against in mid-November. In the playoffs, the Cowboys may have to face a New Orleans or a San Francisco.

Are they 32 points worse than the best team in the NFC South? They are, I guess, until Romo and the Cowboys can prove otherwise.

And that should be the most troubling thing about Sunday night’s performance in the Superdome. The lopsided defeat disparaged most of the success that the Cowboys had enjoyed in the first half of the season.

The elite teams have separated themselves from the NFC herd. The Seahawks, the Saints, the 49ers, the swiftly improving Carolina Panthers appear to be helmet and shoulders above the rest.

Which means another season in Owner Jones’ “window of opportunity” appears to be destined to go gurgling down the drain. Jones, who turned 71 last month, can’t keep that window open forever.

Payton is right. The Cowboys are a wounded shadow of what they should be. But the depth shortages are a problem of Owner Jones’ own making.

He had to pay his “top five” quarterback. I hope he’s enjoying all those numbers.

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