No Shortcuts Allowed


best-of-seven series went, is what seems to have been and still is a popular approach out there to NFL free agency, which hopefully will resume in mid-July once a new CBA is knocked out:

That the Cowboys should just go sign every big-name or big-reputation free agent out there. That if I have more Pro Bowlers than you have Pro Bowlers, I'll win a title. Happens every year free agency opens up, so many imploring Cowboys owner Jerry Jones to spend, spend, spend, as if there were no NFL salary cap or he a personal budget.

And I'm sensing this will happen again since there seems to have been an initial groundswell for the Cowboys to sign corner Nnamdi Asomugha, sign Michael Huff, sign Cullen Jenkins and sign Stephen Tulloch. And now I'm hearing, sign Plaxico Burress? Seriously.

Just doesn't work that way, and really never has. You might be able to afford one expensive piece. But no team has just gone out there and spent, spent, spent and wound up with a Lombardi Trophy, and certainly that is not the way the Cowboys put together their dynasty in the '90s. That team was put together from scratch, with high draft choices thanks to several consecutive years of failure, cultivating the talent on the team and/or being able to make a prudent trade here and there. (See Herschel Walker.)

I mean, just look at all the money Danny Snyder has thrown around in free agency, and for what? The Redskins haven't won even an NFC East title since 1999, the first year of Snyder's ownership. Why, as bad as everyone wanted to remind the Cowboys how long they had gone without a playoff victory (1997-2008), the Redskins have just two to show for since 1993, and have not played in a NFC title game since 1991.

This is not meant to take solace in other people's misery. That's shallow. But just to illustrate it takes more to build a team, and a championship team at that, than leading the league in the collection of star players. For all of Terrell Owens' immense talents, if you keep the guy long enough he turns into a team killer. Like adding hydrochloric acid to the chemistry. Eventually just eats away at the soul of the team.

Putting together a team is like working a jigsaw puzzle. Only certain pieces fit. Everyone can't be the centerpiece. You need role players, guys like Bill Bates and the late Godfrey Myles, who passed away last week, and Kenny Gant. Special teams guys who could help on the nickel and in a pinch if a starter went down. Guys like John Gesek and Kevin Gogan, capable of playing multiple positions. A Kelvin Martin here and a Kevin Smith and Alvin Harper there. You need worker bees like Tony Tolbert and Russell Maryland and you need to develop some guys like Nate Newton, a USFL castoff who turned into a six-time Pro Bowler. Let that settle in, six-time, and he wasn't even drafted and nor did he make the Redskins as a free-agent rookie in 1983.

Plus, there is nothing like sweat-equity on a team, guys who have put in years trying to accomplish something, sort of the way Dirk (he's risen to first-name-only status) and Jason Terry had with the Mavs. They are committed, not just searching for the next payday, and let me tell you there have been a few free agents coming through here looking for no more than that over the past decade. You've got to have your Bradie James or Andre Gurode or Tony Romo or Terence Newman on your team, guys who are hungry for more than that next paycheck, who still want to fight through whatever failures for that singular triumph.

So be careful what you yearn for, how you would like Jerry to spend his dollars. You should demand him to spend judiciously not irresponsibly. Never works to cheat that Peter dude to pay Paul. Otherwise, if your Big Three isn't as big as advertised, then there isn't enough quality worker bees to prop them up in the end.

Let's hear it then for the J.J.'s of the world and, too, that Kidd and The Matrix and D-Steve and Tyson and The Custodian and Peja. Let's hear it for T-E-A-M.

That's what wins in the end.

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