Worst of the Worst
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The last month has not been kind to the 2008 draft class for the Dallas Cowboys.
The team cut Tashard Choice, who was the fourth-round pick that year. Many would like to see Dallas rid itself of Martellus Bennett, who has managed only nine receptions this year and who has not been a big factor in the running game as a blocker.
Felix Jones may have lost his starting job for good to DeMarco Murray. Mike Jenkins has been out as well, and though he’s been missed more than Jones, it is more because the team’s reserve corners have sometimes struggled than because of Jenkins’ play earlier this year.
Orlando Scandrick had an interception vs. Washington on Sunday, but he was also called for holding on a key third-down play late in the game.
The remaining player was linebacker Erik Walden, who has become a starter with the Packers this year.
So this class may not be as bad as the 2009 draft, but it may turn out to be a bust. What do you think?
Another Monday blog post about Tony Romo, along with more reminders of bad times in this franchise’s history.
Don Meredith helped to lead the Cowboys to prominence, including back-to-back appearances in the NFL Championship Game. In 1968, he helped to lead the Cowboys to a 12-2 mark.
But against Cleveland in the playoffs, the Cowboys’ hunt for an NFL title ended. The game was tied 10-10 at the half, but Meredith couldn’t avoid mistakes. He misfired on a sideline pass to Bob Hayes, and Cleveland linebacker Dale Lindsey picked off the pass and returned it 27 yards for a touchdown.
On the next possession, Meredith tried to hit Lance Rentzel, but the ball bounced off the receiver’s hands and into the hands of Ben Davis. Leroy Kelly scored on a 35-yard run, and Dallas trailed 24-10. Meredith’s stats: 3 of 9, 42 yards, 0 TD, 3 Int.
Meredith’s career effectively ended right there. He did not play for the rest of the game against the Browns, and though he played in the first half of the infamous Playoff Bowl one week later, he retired after the season.
Danny White famously led the Cowboys to three consecutive NFC Championship Games (but infamously lost all three of them). He was the starter in 1985 when the Cowboys made the playoffs for the last time under Tom Landry.
But he broke his wrist in 1986, and his comeback in 1987 was not impressive. Dallas had a 5-5 record when the team hosted Minnesota on Thanksgiving Day with an outside chance of making the playoffs. In a wild game, Dallas twice overcame deficits of 14 points to send the game into overtime. The Cowboys had a shot to get into field-goal range in the extra period, but White’s final pass of the game was a wounded duck that found its way to Minnesota LB Scott Studwell. The Vikings scored on the next drive after the interception.
White never won another game as a starter, losing his last start against Washington later in the season. He served as a backup in 1988 but never played again after suffering a knee injury against Chicago.
Drew Bledsoe only played two seasons in Dallas, but he had previously led the Patriots to the Super Bowl and was supposed to be a solid quarterback when he came to Dallas. But in less than two full seasons, Bledsoe was no better than mediocre and had a 12-10 record as the Dallas starter. He had some feel-good moments, including a solid performance in a 34-6 win over in-state rival Houston during week 6 of the 2006 season.
But in week 7 in 2006, the Cowboys fell behind to the New York Giants. The Cowboys scored to New York lead to 12-7, and when Dallas recovered a fumble in Giant territory, the Cowboys had a chance to take a lead going into halftime. Near the goal line, Bledsoe tried to force the ball to Terry Glenn, but Sam Madison stepped in front of it to make the interception, ending the Dallas drive.
Bledsoe never threw another pass as a pro. His mistakes had cost the team games before, and the pass to Glenn was the last straw. Dallas coach Bill Parcells pulled Bledsoe and put in backup Tony Romo.
We were supposed to think that the legend was born at that point, but legendary isn’t the term that will describe Romo’s career.
Romo was 19-7 during his first year and a half as the starter. Since that time, he is only 22-17. He’s had some big wins in September and other big wins in November. And he was good during a late run in 2009, leading the team to its only playoff win in 15 years.
Otherwise, his blunders are becoming worse than the worst anyone ever saw by the likes of Meredith, White, or Bledsoe (or, for that matter, Quincy Carter, Ryan Leaf, or Clint Stoerner). Romo has had to take the blame for more and more losses in the past three seasons, and it’s getting hard to believe Team Jerry won’t decide that enough is enough.
The loss to the Lions wasn’t just about Romo trying to make a play in a tight game. He was reckless at a time where any quarterback at any level would have known he just needed to play it safe. He’s 31 years old and has started 65 professional football games. He has very clearly not learned anything from his past mistakes, and we should have absolutely no confidence that he’ll learn anything from the most recent catastrophe.
Of course, Jerry says no change will take place, and Jason Garrett and the rest of the team have pledged their support. Perhaps the rest of us can pledge to accept mediocrity.
The Cowboys have had their share of draft gaffes and other poor personnel moves during the past 17 or so years (i.e., the post-Jimmy Johnson years). Thus, when an author from Football Outsiders ran a list of the 10 Most Disappointing Oversights of the past 25 years, one might expect the Cowboys to show up. And an oversight by the Cowboys indeed shows up on the list.
The selection might stump even the most knowledgeable fans.
Most would probably say that the Cowboys giving up on receiver Jimmy Smith would be near the top of this list. Smith was a second-round selection in 1992 but suffered through a series of injuries that ended his Dallas career. He was credited with seven appearances during his Dallas career (all in 1992 on special teams), and he did not catch a single pass. The Cowboys let him go in the 1995 expansion draft, and Jacksonville picked him up.
Between 1995 and 2005, Smith caught 862 passes for 12,287 yards and 67 touchdowns. The career totals of Alvin Harper and Kevin Williams combined were less than Smith’s in each of those categories. Even more stunning is that Smith’s totals also surpass those of Michael Irvin.
The other choices are less obvious. The Cowboys picked a number of players who ended up becoming starters with other teams. These players include the likes of Ron Stone (G, 1994-1995), Omar Stoutmire (S, 1997-1998), Oliver Ross (T, 1998), and Stephen Peterman (G, drafted in 2004). As for players signed as free agents and then released, Danny Amendola (training camp in 2008) is the first to come to my mind. Please comment if I am missing anyone.
However, none of those players ever became Pro Bowl players, let alone stars. The player who made the Football Outsiders list has made a total of five Pro Bowls.
Undrafted out of North Texas, Waters went to training camp with the Cowboys as a rookie in 1999 but was waived in September and spent his first professional season at home. The Chiefs signed him in January 2000, and he entered the starting lineup on a permanent basis in Week 11 of the 2001 season. In the past 10 seasons, the five-time Pro Bowler has started 149 (of a possible 151) games he’s been active, blocking for 1,000-yard rushers seven times (Priest Holmes, three times; Larry Johnson, twice; and Jamaal Charles, twice) and earning five trips to the Pro Bowl and two first-team All-Pro selections. Waters was also the first offensive lineman to earn AFC Offensive Player of the Week honors (Week 7, 2004) and was named the NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year in 2009.
As you can imagine, Brett Favre was at the top of the list. Others include Steve Young, Jerome Bettis, coach Mike Shananhan, Priest Holmes, Jeff Saturday, Kurt Warner, Mike Vrabel, and Tramon Williams.
Once upon a time, the Cowboys had appeared in more Super Bowls than any other pro football team, and no franchise could match the sustained success that Dallas had. And during many of those years, Cowboys fans were probably the most reviled of any fans anywhere. That suited us just fine.
But the Cowboys have had trouble escaping mediocrity. And while plenty of folks like to try to remove the America’s Team title from the Cowboys, Dallas fans are apparently not as hated as we once were.
According to GQ, Dallas fans rank as the twelfth worst fans in all of sports. We don’t even rank as the worst in pro football, as fans of the Raiders and Eagles rank far ahead of the Dallas fans. This is somewhere between a travesty and an abomination. The Eagles shouldn’t rank ahead of us in anything.
Here’s the list:
15. L.A. Lakers
14. Univ. of Oregon basketball
13. Univ. of Wisconsin football
12. Dallas Cowboys
11. Montreal Canadiens
10. L.S.U. football
9. N.Y. Yankees
8. Duke basketball
7. Penn St. football
6. Boston Red Sox
5. Univ. of Maryland basketball
4. Oakland Raiders
3. West Virginia Univ. Mountaineers
1 (tie) Philadelphia Eagles
1 (tie) Philadelphia Phillies
The best name that GQ could do was to refer to Cowboy fans as Deluded Trash-Talkers. As for the reason why Dallas fans are the twelfth worst:
The swaggering diaspora of Dallas fans insufferably mouth off about the invincibility of “America’s Team,” as if they’re rooting for our entire country and not a franchise that has won two playoff games in the past fifteen years. To set the record straight: The nickname came from a 1978 Cowboys highlight reel, not some edict from Uncle Sam. And they’ve sworn their allegiance to a front-running team that isn’t even good enough to run up front anymore.
Jon Kitna took over for Tony Romo during the first half of the Cowboys’ week 7 loss to the Giants. Kitna then started nine games, going 4-5 in the process.
The question for the day: Where does Kitna’ performance rank among other backup quarterbacks in team history?
Only two other true backups in team history have had to start as many games as Kitna did in 2010, so it is difficult to rank all of them. One of those QBs was Craig Morton, who lost the starting job in 1971 but then started all 14 games in 1972 because of an injury to Roger Staubach. The other QB was Steve Pelluer in 1986, who struggled to replace an injured Danny White. Pelluer started a total of nine games in 1986 but only went 1-6 after White was injured for good against the Giants that season.
As for other quarterbacks, a few have started at least three games as replacements for injured starters. Others have started a few games during seasons in which the team lacked a clear-cut starter. Such was the case during the early 2000s, when Dallas went through the likes of Anthony Wright, Ryan Leaf, Clint Stoerner, and so forth.
The list below includes those quarterbacks who started at least three games as injury replacements for firmly established starters. Kitna’s overall performance falls somewhere in the middle of this list.
Here’s a brief review of these players:
Steve Beuerlein, 1991
Beuerlein took over the starting position when Troy Aikman was hurt against the Redskins in week 11. The Cowboys improved from 6-5 to 11-5 thanks to Beuerlein’s play during that time.
Craig Morton, 1972
One year after the Cowboys won Super Bowl VI, Roger Staubach suffered a shoulder injured that kept him from playing most of the season. Morton returned to the starting role and led Dallas to another playoff appearance.
Craig Morton, 1967
The Cowboys were trying in 1967 to accomplished what they couldn’t in 1966: An NFL Championship. The 1967 season was tough, though, as Dallas struggled to a 9-5 record. Starting QB Don Meredith suffered some injures, but the Cowboys were able to turn to Morton, who went 2-1 as a replacement.
Jason Garrett, 1998
Many remember Garrett’s Thanksgiving performance in 1993, but he also started five games in 1998 when Aikman broke his collarbone. Garrett’s play was inconsistent, but he managed to post a 3-2 record that season.
Jon Kitna, 2010
Kitna didn’t bring everything that Romo could, but Kitna appeared to be a more vocal leader after Romo’s injury. Kitna’s 4-5 record could have been better had Dallas pulled out wins against the Saints, Eagles, and Cardinals (though he was injured during the Arizona game).
Steve Pelluer, 1986
Pelleur didn’t look terrible in 1986 when Danny White was temporarily injured. However, when White was lost for the season with a broken wrist, Pelluer looked awful. Thanks to the team’s 1-6 record in the final seven games, Dallas finished with a losing record for the first time since 1964.
Randall Cunningham, 2000
Aikman suffered through injures and boos during his final season in 2000. Cunningham showed flashes of his great play from 1998 as a replacement with the Cowboys, but Cunningham could only manage a 1-2 record as a starter.
Brad Johnson, 2008
Johnson had won a Super Bowl with Tampa Bay in 2002, but by 2008, he had a dead arm. He posted a 1-2 mark as a starter, but one loss was to the woeful Rams and one of the wins was thanks mostly to a defensive effort against Tampa Bay.
Steve Walsh, 1989
Walsh didn’t set the world on fire in 1989, but he led the team to its only win of 1989 by defeating the Redskins.
John Roach, 1964
Roach had played with the Cardinals and Packers before joining the Cowboys in ’64. He made fans miss Eddie LeBaron by going 0-4 as an injury replacement for Don Meredith that season. Point of interest: he was the only player besides Roger Staubach to wear #12 for the Cowboys.
Poll: Rate the Performances
At that point, Pittsburgh had a total of 19 playoff wins in its history along with five Super Bowl appearances.
Since that time, the Steelers have a postseason record of 14-6 with two Super Bowl wins. And Pittsburgh will play in its eighth Super Bowl in two weeks with the possibility of winning an NFL-record seventh title.
As you know, the Cowboys have playoff mark of 2-7 since 1996, and Dallas fans have only been able to remember what used to be when it comes to Super Bowls.
As of now, the Steelers and Cowboys are tied with 33 playoff wins and eight Super Bowl appearances. If Pittsburgh wins, the Steelers get to celebrate their 34th playoff win underneath Jerry’s giant television.
Here are each team’s playoff wins:
The Cowboys’ terrible performance in 2010 was stunning, and most would consider it to be the most disappointing in the franchise’s history. The focus of this post is whether the 2010 season has any competitors when it comes to most disappointing.
The Cowboys have had a losing record in 16 of 51 seasons. The team was obviously in building or rebuilding mode in several of these seasons, so expectations were low entering into the season. There have been other seasons in which Dallas was expected to make the playoffs, yet just missed after barely getting over the .500 mark.
The list below includes 21 seasons in which the Cowboys either had a losing record or were expected to make the playoffs but failed to qualify. Any season in which the team may have struggled but still made the playoffs (e.g., 1999, 2006) were excluded.
Some of these seasons simply don’t rank with the 2010 in terms of overall disappointment because nobody expected much at all from the team. The teams below didn’t make the “cut.”
1960: Dallas was an expansion team and didn’t even have the benefit of a draft. The 0-11-1 mark wasn’t quite what anyone expected, but it was hardly stunning.
1961: Same as 1960.
1962: Same as 1960 and 1961, except that the Cowboys had quite an explosive offense in ’62.
1964: After a disappointing 1963 campaign, the Cowboys continued to have trouble winning games. This could not have been a surprise.
1965: Thanks to a three-game winning streak, Dallas managed a .500 mark. It was not what the team expected, but Dallas played in the Playoff Bowl in 1965 thanks to its second-place finish in the Eastern Division.
1987: Most hoped that the Cowboys would return to the playoffs in 1987 after the losing record in 1986, but the 7-8 finish was hardly a big surprise.
1988: The Cowboys were a mix of over-the-hill veterans and a group of untalented youngsters. No surprise that a 3-13 season would result.
1989: Dallas had even less talent that the ’88 squad had.
1990: Nobody thought the Cowboys would be within a win of making the playoffs, so the 7-9 mark and the season as a whole were more positive than negative.
2001: The Quincy Carter experiment was not going to go well, and the results in the first season of this experiment were not surprising.
2002: This team was better than the ’00 and ’01 squads, but Dave Campo hadn’t proven himself a winner, and the 5-11 mark didn’t turn out to be a big surprise.
This leaves ten teams, which I’ve ranked as follows:
10. 2005 Season (9-7, 3rd place in the NFC East)
The hype: There was no way that a Bill Parcells team would miss the playoffs for two consecutive seasons. Dallas had a good draft and a better quarterback in Drew Bledsoe. This team was ready to take a few steps forward.
The result: After a 7-3 start, the team only managed two more wins. The Cowboys were eliminated from the playoffs before they took the field in week 17, and the team promptly lost to the lowly Rams.
Why it was not more disappointing: Dallas fans had endured three 5-11 seasons from ’00 to ’02, along with a 6-10 mark in ’04. A 9-7 record was actually an improvement.
9. 1984 Season (9-7, 2nd place in the NFC East)
The hype: QB Gary Hogeboom was the answer. He would deliver what Danny White couldn’t.
The result: The Cowboys started 4-3 and limped their way to a 9-7 even after White returned to the starting lineup.
Why it was not more disappointing: The team missed the playoffs, but after three consecutive losses in NFC title games from ’80 to ’82, along with a bad end to the 1983 season, it wasn’t entirely shocking that the team took a step back.
8. 1963 Season (4-10, 5th place in the NFC East)
The hype: The Cowboys made the cover of Sports Illustrated as the favorites to win the Eastern Division.
The result: The team regressed from its 5-8-1 mark the year before by going 4-10. Dallas only managed one win in its first seven games.
Why it was not more disappointing: The franchise had not yet done anything, so another losing season could hardly have been a shock.
7. 2000 Season (5-11, 4th place in the NFC East)
The hype: The Cowboys had lost Michael Irvin and Deion Sanders, but they had gained Joey Galloway and still had Troy Aikman and Emmitt Smith.
The result: Aikman was booed for much of the season, and the team never recovered from an opening-game loss to the Eagles.
Why it was not more disappointing: The Cowboys had an awful draft in 2000, and the team had not replaced its departed stars during the previous several seasons.
6. 2004 Season (6-10, 2nd place in the NFC East)
The hype: The Cowboys were going to go further in the playoffs now that Bill Parcells had turned everything around.
The result: The team cut Quincy Carter in the preseason and relied on Vinny Testaverde to lead the way. After six losses in seven games during the middle of the season, Dallas stood at 3-7.
Why it was not more disappointing: Nobody thought the team would have to rely on Testaverde, and the team’s schedule was more difficult than it was in 2003.
5. 1974 Season (8-6, 3rd place in the NFC East)
The hype: The team had reached the NFC title game in ’72 and ’73, and most of the main stars were returning.
The result: The Cowboys never overcame a 1-4 start, and even winning seven games in eight weeks wasn’t enough to lead to a playoff berth.
Why it was not more disappointing: Most remember the ’74 season for Clint Longley’s heroics on Thanksgiving, and the real disappointment was the poor start. Dallas rebounded in the second half of the season and ended up making the Super Bowl the next year.
4. 1986 Season (7-9, 3rd place in the NFC East)
The hype: Dallas brought in some talent with Herschel Walker and rookie Mike Sherrard. The team’s 6-2 start was enough for a tie for the division lead after eight games.
The result:Danny White broke his wrist. Steve Pelleur wasn’t the answer. The 6-2 start turned into a 7-9 nightmare, marking the team’s first losing record in 22 years.
Why it was not more disappointing: The talent base had eroded by 1986, and the team lacked a proven backup after the Cowboys traded Gary Hogeboom.
3. 1997 Season (6-10, 4th place in the NFC East)
The hype: The Cowboys were ready to reclaim their spot among the NFL’s best now that the distractions of 1996 were gone.
The result: The team never came together and struggled to stay above the .500 mark. Dallas stood at 6-5 after week 12, but a loss to the Packers started a five-game skid. This year marked the end of the Dallas dynasty of the 1990s.
Why it was not more disappointing: The team had been imploding for some time after winning Super Bowl XXX, so the result was disappointing but not entirely surprising.
2. 2008 Season (9-7, 3rd place in the NFC East)
The hype: The team would rebound from its devastating loss to the Giants in the 2007 playoffs to reach the Super Bowl.
The result: Dallas had a 3-0 record after three weeks and an 8-4 record after 12 games, but the team lacked the firepower it had in 2007. The Cowboys lost three of four to end the season, including a defeat to the Ravens in the last game at Texas Stadium and 44-6 humiliation to the Eagles in the season finale with a playoff berth on the line.
Why it was not more disappointing: The Cowboys had gone 9-7 in ’05 and ’06, and the team never looked like the 13-3 squad in ’08.
1. 2010 Season (6-10, 3rd place in the NFC East)
The hype: The Cowboys had finally turned the corner by winning a playoff game in 2009. The team was ready to compete for the NFC title.
The result: The Cowboys lost to Washington in week 1 and never recovered. After week 9, Dallas was 1-7 and heading nowhere. A 5-3 finish was respectable, but the squad’s defense was still among the league’s worst.
Why it is the more disappointing: The Cowboys had some (perhaps unrealistic) Super Bowl hopes in ’74, ’86, ’97, and ’08, but none of those teams completely collapsed the way the ’10 team did.
The Cowboys for many years were the most innovative team in terms of their approach to the collegiate draft, and for that reason the team has not had many horrible drafts. That doesn’t mean there haven’t been a few bad ones. What’s more troubling have been some of the poor drafts that have taken place during the past 10 years.
Of particular concern right now is the 2009 draft, which thus far has produced a kicker with a big leg and accuracy problems; a third tight end who is on injured reserve this year; a third-string quarterback who ran the option until his senior year in college and who has not played a down in the NFL; and a backup linebacker. With the Cowboys’ release of Jason Williams this week, 7 of the team’s 12 picks have been cut, though Robert Brewster and Manuel Johnson are still on the practice squad.
So the question of the day is whether the 2009 draft was the team’s worst. It may be a tough call, but rather surprisingly, there have been few worst drafts. Here’s a look. Please make your selection in the form at the bottom of the post.
First-round pick Tody Smith only played two years in Dallas before moving on to Houston. Eighth-round pick Ron Jessie never played for the Cowboys but became a Pro Bowl player in Los Angeles. Defensive lineman Bill Gregory remained with the team until 1977 before becoming a starter in Seattle. Otherwise, most players taken in this draft were completely forgettable.
First-round pick Larry Bethea never played like a high draft choice and only lasted six years in Dallas. Of the team’s 12 picks overall, only five played in the league. The best player of the bunch was tight end Todd Christensen, but he never played a down in Dallas. The only noteworthy Cowboy among the bunch was 11th-round pick Dennis Thurman.
The Cowboys had 16 picks in the 1982 draft but could only produce the likes of Rod Hill, Jeff Rohrer, and Phil Pozderac. Rohrer and Pozderac became starters, but it was only because the team’s talent level had decreased so much by the middle part of the decade.
This was the infamous backup draft, where the Cowboys picked players based on their projected roles as backups. The draft produced running back Sherman Williams, tight end Kendell Watkins, cornerback Charlie Williams, tight end Eric Bjornson, and cornerback Alundis Brice. They were, as you can imagine, backups.
Jerry was hell-bent on finding a defensive back to replace Deion Sanders in 2000. He found Dwayne Goodrich, Kareem Larrimore, and Mario Edwards. Only the latter of the three was worth anything. Running back Michael Wiley was not entirely awful coming out of the backfield, but he certainly wasn’t good either.
Jerry didn’t have a first-round pick for the second year in a row thanks to his trade for receiver Joey Galloway. He traded picks for picks for picks for picks before finally getting quarterback Quincy Carter and safety Tony Dixon in the second round.
This was the year of Barbie. That is, Bobby Carpenter. Everything about Bobby screamed BUST from early in his rookie season. The Cowboys found some better players in tight end Anthony Fasano, Jason Hatcher, Pat Watkins, and Pat McQuistan, but Fasano and McQuistan have had much better pro careers in Miami than in Dallas. The Cowboys cut Watkins during training camp in 2010 and miss him on special teams. Of the players taken in 2006, only Hatcher remains.
Jerry apparently didn’t learn anything from the Joey Galloway trade because he gave away the team’s first-round pick in 2009 to acquire receiver Roy Williams. Dallas then traded out of the second round to try to get more later-round picks. The big question on everyone’s mind as the team finally made selections: who is that?
My choice: I’m going to go with the 2000 draft for now. The Cowboys were headed downward fast and needed new talent. Instead, Dallas had only five picks and tried to corner the market on mediocre to bad cornerbacks. Other teams found a number of solid players in the first five rounds. Edwards and Wiley weren’t the worst picks ever, but when they are the only two contributors in an entire draft, it’s a pretty bad draft.