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Spagnola: About Time The Cowboys Turn The Tables On Sustainable

FRISCO, Texas – And now for the question of the day:

Are these Dallas Cowboys, heading to Oxnard, Calif., on Saturday for training camp, sustainable?


         That's what you want to know, asking yourself, was I teased last year by 13-3 or are these Cowboys something I can sink my teeth into for the long haul?

         Thoroughly understand if there is skepticism lacing your anticipation to this season. One year the Cowboys go 12-4, the next year they go 4-12. Then the next they go 13-3.

         One year they win the NFC East title, the next year they finish dead last. Then the next they win the NFC East.

         Maddeningly frustrating.

         So maybe in 2017 we find out which is a true indication of this franchise's goodness? Which is the outlier?

         And for the better part of 20 years the Cowboys just haven't been consistent winners, driving you crazy with the teeter-tottering results. Think about some of this:

  • The Cowboys have not constructed consecutive double-digit victory seasons since going 12-4 in 1995 and 10-6 in 1996.
  • The Cowboys have not logged consecutive winning seasons since doing so in five straight between 2005 and 2009, going 9-7, 9-7, 13-3, 9-7 and 11-5.
  • The Cowboys haven't won back-to-back NFC East titles since 1995-96, and as I've pointed out previously, no team in the NFC East has done so since the Eagles won the title from 2001 through 2004.
  • The Cowboys haven't gone to the playoffs in consecutive seasons since 2006 and 2007, and they certainly haven't won more than one playoff game in a season since 1995 when they last won a Super Bowl, and at that they've won only three playoff games overall since that Super Bowl victory.

But then there is also this: The Cowboys haven't suffered back-to-back losing seasons since the consecutive 5-11 years of 2000 through 2002.

And there is also this: From 2011 through this past 2016 season, so the past six years, the Cowboys have either won the NFC East (two of the past three seasons) or could have won the NFC East if they had just won the final game of the season that they didn't those three consecutive 8-8 years (2011-13). That close.

Nearly dominated the NFC East every one of those seasons except for 2015, and we know full-well what happened that year with Tony Romo suffering through two broken clavicles.

And on top of all that, the Cowboys have won four NFC East titles in the past 10 seasons (2007, 2009, 2014 and 2016) and that doubles what each of the other three teams in the East have done.

Yeah, yeah, I know, woulda, coulda, shoulda, and my guess is all you care about is Super Bowls, and that drought now is 21 years, the longest in franchise history.

So here we go prancing into the 2017 season, the defending NFC East champs, winners of a franchise-tying high 13 games, earning a first-round bye into the playoffs and playing in the second round for the fourth time these past 10 seasons.

Again, encouraging, but if you ask anyone within these walls out here, not nearly good enough.

Yet, if two of the past three years is any indication, maybe, just maybe the Cowboys are on the verge of taking over this NFC East, which would be rather remarkable if you consider how the Dallas roster is transforming before your very eyes. Did you realize?

Look, there obviously is a new sheriff in town. This is unequivocally Dak Prescott's team, and if last year was not a one-year wonder, then will be his for years to come. Ezekiel Elliott is the real deal at running back, as long as he figures out, and fast, that when he's out on the town he is Ezekiel Elliott, not Joe Elliott, and he can't act like some 22-year-old Joe Elliott. Whatever it takes, Zeke must insure his privacy when out having a good time at all times. With the return of La'el Collins, the offensive line now should be solid for years to come.

And look what is happening on this defense. The Cowboys will go to camp with 15 defensive backs on the 90-man roster. Only three of them will enter this camp potentially going into at least their third season on a Cowboys' 53-man roster (Orlando Scandrick, 10th; Jeff Heath, 5th; and Byron Jones, 3rd).

Nearly the same on the defensive line. There are 17 of them heading to Oxnard. Yet still only three of them potentially enter this camp going into at least their third season on a Cowboys' 53-man roster (Tyrone Crawford, 6th; DeMarcus Lawrence, 4th; and David Irving, 3rd). And I suppose we must even put an asterisk next to Irving's name since he must serve a four-game suspension to start the season.

That's a lot of new faces. And that includes a lot of young faces, too, if you figure only 20 of those 90 guys heading west are entering more than their fifth season in the NFL. And to think three of those guys are special-team aces: deep snapper L.P. Ladouceur (13th), kicker Dan Bailey (7th) and punter Chris Jones (6th).

Of the 11 guys not returning, four of them were 30-Somethings, with Romo the oldest at now 37, and five more were at least 28 years of age.

Not that the Cowboys have enjoyed the ultimate success, but to have a chance at sustaining success teams must work at staying young. This youth generally keeps your roster healthier and your salary cap even more healthier than that.

Plus, the good thing – if it works – the Cowboys really didn't go out trying to replace the 11 significant contributors they let walk in free agency with someone else's older and more expensive castoffs. That's how a team grows old in a hurry and that salary cap shrinks rapidly. The Cowboys found that out the hard way in 2010.

Now, surely someone at the camp-opening press conference on Sunday will ask owner Jerry Jones – they know not to bother trying to elicit bold predictions from either COO Stephen Jones or head coach Jason Garrett – if he thinks the Cowboys will win the Super Bowl this season. Fine, that's the goal. That's the goal every year. Great.

But this must be the Cowboys' focus:

How about double-digit win seasons in back-to-back years for the first time since 1995-96.

How about back-to-back NFC East titles for the first time since 1995-96.

How about back-to-back playoff appearances for the first time since 2006-07.

Do that, and that means the Cowboys would have accomplished those feats – at least 10 wins, a division title and playoff appearance – in three of the past four seasons.

 Man, last time we saw the Cowboys win at least 10 games three times in four years we'd have to go back to 1995-98.

Last time we saw the Cowboys win three division titles in four years we'd have to go back 1995-98.

And the last time we saw the Cowboys head to the playoffs three times in a four-year span we'd have to go back to 2006-09.

That's a long time ago.

Geesh, the Cowboys have 10 guys heading to camp who weren't born until 1995, including Zeke, born 22 years ago Saturday. And only Jason Witten and Ladouceur on this roster know what it's like to go to the playoffs three times in four years with the Cowboys. That's it.

Super Bowl? I get it.

But to get there these Cowboys must become sustainable.

See ya from training camp.

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