The Dallas Cowboys are the most memed team in NFL history (check me on this, Elias Sports Bureau), which probably means that Jerry Jones is the most memed owner in NFL history. He has long drawn the mockery of NFL fans and media that have characterized him as an out-of-touch owner with too much control over his franchise and as someone with no business making football decisions. Heck, he even said that he would fire himself at one point.
But the direction the Cowboys have been going in for the last couple of years should change Jones’ persona as a football executive. He won NFL Executive of the Year in 2014 and with just two draft picks this year, single-handedly set up the Cowboys’ offense for the forseeable future. The team has now completely rebuilt its identity with rookies Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott running the show, and “Dem Boys” are 10-1 as a result.
Jones deserves a lot of credit for this.
It was conventional wisdom for a long time that Jerry Jones wasn’t a good GM. And that’s still true—because he’s a great GM. In fact, he might just be the best in the NFL.
Now, this might on the surface sound like a Skip Bayless-esque exaggerated hot take that’s designed only to draw attention. But it’s actually pretty accurate. Few teams have been contenders for as long a period of time as Jerry’s Cowboys. Consider these points:
The Cowboys have had 15 first-round picks since 2002. Of those 15, nine have become Pro Bowlers. This number will jump to ten when Ezekiel Elliott is inevitably named to the Pro Bowl this year. The Patriots, who are bar none the greatest organization in football, have drafted just six Pro Bowlers in the first round during that same span. The Packers have only four. The Steelers have six, too.
And it’s not just in the first round where Dallas has found contributors. Starting quarterback Dak Prescott (fourth round), leading receiver Cole Beasley (undrafted), leading tackler Sean Lee (second round), future Hall of Famer Jason Witten (third round), and cornerbacks Orlando Scandrick (fifth round) and Brandon Carr (fifth round) have all come from beyond the first.
You could even go back a couple of years and look at guys like third-rounder DeMarco Murray and the undrafted (and most underrated quarterback of his generation, by the way) Tony Romo as diamonds Jones found in the rough. This year’s Cowboys team is the culmination of about a decade of good drafting—especially on the offensive line, which is one of the best in NFL history.
Dallas has had just two losing seasons since 2005, which both came when Romo was injured. During that timeframe, they’ve had 107 wins.That’s the ninth-most in the NFL during that timeframe. And while they have had their fair share of 8-8 blunders, they’ve pretty much always been in contention over the last decade. A lot of Browns fans would probably kill just to have a competitive season.
So yeah. Jerry Jones is pretty good at this.
Another aspect of Jones’ recent success that often gets overlooked is his loyalty to Jason Garrett. Back when Garrett was the team’s offensive coordinator in the late 2000s, Jones always made sure that the budding coaching prospect was taken care of so that he wouldn’t become a head coach elsewhere.
And when he finally did become a head coach, three consecutive 8-8 seasons put Garrett in a situation that would have put many coaches out of a job. But Jones stuck with his embattled coach, and the team now stands to have two playoff appearances in three years. Garrett was able to successfully cultivate an offense around Romo, and looks to be developing Prescott just fine.
But Jones showed the world his football ops prowess in perhaps the largest fashion this April. Dallas’ 2016 draft class, at the very least, is going to go down as probably the best instant-impact draft in NFL history. At its best, it could go down as one of the best draft classes ever, for any team. Elliott already has 1,199 rushing yards with six games to go. If he really turns on the jets, he can push for Eric Dickerson’s 1,808 yard rookie record.
And Prescott’s completion percentage, quarterback rating, and 18:2 touchdown to interception ratio are all pushing rookie records too. Draft classes usually take years to materialize, but this one has defined itself quicker than perhaps any in recent memory. And this largely thanks to Jones; finding two potentially elite talents in the same draft doesn’t happen by accident—especially given Jones’ track record in the draft.
All of these football decisions have also given Jones perhaps the greatest return on investment in sports history: He bought the team in 1989 for $150 million. Today, they’re worth $4 billion. That’s almost 40 times what he initially spent. So it pretty much goes without saying that if you have the $1.97 billion that will buy you an average NFL team today, that might be a wise investment.
So if you’re a Cowboys fan this Thanksgiving, make sure you give thanks that Jerry Jones is the team’s owner.
Oh, and he also built the biggest professional sports stadium in America.