However, it also is beyond debate that having a talented team means high expectations. The Cowboys have as much talent as anyone; after sending 13 players earned a trip to Honolulu for last year's Pro Bowl, there are just three teams – New England, San Diego and Indianapolis – that can claim to have even as much talent as does Dallas.
However, teams entering a season with such expectations also have to contend with the personality and personnel management style of their owners. Teams like the Colts or Pittsburgh Steelers – squads with largely hands-off owners – often are allowed to mature as a team and learn to function to the level of their raw, physical talents. But teams with heavily-involved owners are assumed to have a shorter window in which to produce.
There may be no owner in sports whose last name isn't Steinbrenner who takes a larger role in the day-to-day operations of a team than Jerry Jones (George Steinbrenner was the standard setter, and his son Hank seems to have ratcheted up the role of the meddlesome owner to a historic level). He not only hires the coach, but he is deeply immersed in the acquisition of players, both free agents and via the draft. Every owner wants to win, of course, but in his dual role as owner and general manager, Jones acts as if he has even more of a vested interest in his team's success than his fellow owners.
There are plenty of reasons to assume he is expecting victories – not just in September and October, but also in January. He had more players invited to the Pro Bowl than any other owner, and he has a history of meddling, well beyond lurking on the sideline late in games. He has a veteran coach in Wade Phillips, but is paying his top assistant coach, Jason Garrett, about $3 million per year while presumably waiting his turn as the team's next coach. He has a national superstar at quarterback and recently handed out more than $100 million in contract extensions. Translation: looking good might be nice, but clearly he expects to win … now.
More often than not, the bulk of the expectations falls on two people: the head coach and the quarterback. In the case of Wade Phillips and Tony Romo, neither has a playoff win to his credit. Phillips is the quiet country boy, son of Bum, who is as easy to like and root for as anyone on the Dallas sideline in recent memory. Romo is the young star quarterback, with his goofy smile and pop star girlfriends. Each is likeable, but both clearly need postseason success.
But Phillips needs it more, if for no other reason than the finances involved. He's not a young coach, and if he doesn't find postseason success this year, he likely will be replaced by Garrett, who was considered for the head coaching job when Phillips was hired. Garrett is not making $3 million per to serve a 10-year apprenticeship. He will be the next coach of the team – it's just a matter of when.
Likewise, Jones is locked in with Romo for multiple years and big bucks, so regardless of how the season goes, he's not going anywhere. He is the quarterback, the face of the team, and he will be again next year, regardless of how this year goes. Any other quarterbacks on the roster are battling only to be Romo's backup.
With as much talent as the Cowboys have, only a rash of injuries to multiple key performers should jeopardize the team's trip to the postseason. Assuming Dallas makes it to the postseason, the most talented team in the NFC has no excuse to go one-and-done again. If the Cowboys make another early exit, Romo will endure barbs from skeptics, but Phillips needs postseason success even more. His job could well depend on it.
Whose seat is hotter?
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