No NFL owner, still alive, has exercised a greater influence, for better or worse, upon his football team.
But that seems to be changing, and you’ll see a glimpse of the results of that Friday night when the Dallas Cowboys play an NFL preseason game against the Miami Dolphins.
Jerry Jones turns 74 in two months, and he no longer has to wash his team’s socks and jocks.
He never did, of course, but it made for a good introduction, he figured, that night in 1989 when he bought the Cowboys.
He figured wrong. He figured wrong, too, when he lost his patience with Jimmy Johnson five years later and said, infamously, “There are 500 coaches who could have won the Super Bowl with our team.”
He then went out and hired one, Barry Switzer.
Jones, the oil wildcatter, turned the Cowboys into a $4 billion professional sports franchise, according to Forbes.
Jones, the self-appointed general manager, also turned the Cowboys into a team that used to go to the Super Bowl.
He used to want to be like Al Davis, the late owner-king of the Oakland Raiders. But Al is gone and Jerry just learned that he’s a finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and Jones doesn’t seem as fixated anymore on that Mount Rushmore stuff.
There’s another voice in the room, his son Stephen, and if you can believe the random quotes from around the league, opposing teams are not all that comfortable with that.
“The Cowboys are starting to scare me,” a NFC general manager told Mike Freeman of Bleacher Report. “You could always count on Jerry Jones [messing] things up.
“That isn’t happening any longer. That’s a Super Bowl-caliber team now.”
The tales from behind the Valley Ranch walls have had echoes. It was Stephen, they say, who talked his father out of drafting Johnny Manziel in 2014. The Cowboys wisely drafted offensive lineman Zack Martin instead.
And it was Stephen who urged Jerry not to reward DeMarco Murray’s 2014 season with a lavish, salary cap-crippling free agent contract. The son had seen the damage caused by his father rewarding one-season wonders Miles Austin and Marion Barber with big contracts.
His influence on Jerry is nothing new. People close to the elder Jones say that Stephen has long been the rational voice in the room.
It’s just that Jerry, two months before his 74th birthday and 21 years since his last Super Bowl, has reached the point where he is more willing to listen.
Jerry built a magnificent stadium. Stephen builds consensuses, and he values the input of coach Jason Garrett and personnel director Will McClay.
You’ll see the fruits of that Friday night and more in coming weeks. Quarterback Dak Prescott was selected in the fourth round of this year’s NFL draft. He, of course, could have been Manziel, if Owner Jones hadn’t listened.
The deep offensive line is the team’s foundation, and an idea heartily endorsed by consensus-builder Stephen Jones. The defense remains a work in progress, but its core is young and athletic and has the staff’s patient blessing.
Like father, like son? Not so much. But Stephen seems to have learned his dad’s lessons well.
Well enough to worry the rest of the NFL. And that’s not a bad place to start.