Cowboys covet, but can’t replicate, the Patriot Way

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The #PFTPM podcast gives me a way to react to news that emerges during the day (after PFT Live concludes), to answer questions from you, and/or to babble on and on about whatever I’d like to babble on and on about. Sometimes, in the process of babbling on and on about something, I get an idea.

While discussing the status of Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott‘s holdout and the latest offer that reportedly was made to Elliott by the them, it occurred to me that, at their core, these contractual conundrums that the Cowboys currently are confronting reflect deep-seated envy of a franchise that has appeared in 10 Super Bowls since the last time the Cowboys played in the NFL’s championship game. Indeed, the Cowboys haven’t even been back to the NFC title game during a 23-year run that has included 10 AFC championship and six Super Bowl trophies for the New England Patriots, eclipsing along the way the five that the Cowboys won from 1971 through 1995.

The Patriots have mastered the ability to persuade players to take less than full market value, which has become a key ingredient in both holding together a nucleus of great talent and having enough cap space left to maintain a solid middle class of backups who can step in when injuries inevitably happen. The Cowboys, who currently have the most talent they’ve had since the salary cap began to chip away at the Jimmy Johnson-built roster that won three titles in four years from 1992 through 1995, are trying to impose that mindset on their players, but they can’t. And it seems to be driving them a little batty.

Yes, it’s good to have a bunch of great players. And now the Cowboys will either do what the Vikings have done, paying all of them at or close to market value and hoping for the best when it comes to the second- and third-string players, or persuade the likes of Elliott and Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper to act like Patriots.

Of course, the envy between the franchises quite possibly runs both ways. No matter how many championships the Patriots win, the Cowboys remain America’s Team, drawing eyeballs like no one else, even in down years. Still, it’s better to have the championships, and the Cowboys want more of them. They’ll be more likely to get more if they can get their best players to do what most of the best Patriots players always do: Take less.

The only problem for the Cowboys is that Zeke, Dak, and Amari aren’t inclined to do that. Earlier this year, Prescott made it clear that a team-friendly deal is an unfriendly proposition. “Nobody’s wife makes as much money as [Tom Brady’s] wife does,” Prescott told said at the time. “When Tom Brady isn’t the breadwinner in the home, then that’s a great problem to have.”

This means that the Cowboys eventually have to choose between finding a way to make it work (even if they end up with a subpar collection of backups) or making tough decisions about trading certain players or letting them become free agents, relying on the organization’s ability to draft and develop cheaper replacements.

It would be a lot easier if the best players would simply take less, like the best Patriots do. The sooner the Cowboys realize that’s just not happening, the sooner they’ll get these contractual disputes resolved, one way or the other.

60 responses to “Cowboys covet, but can’t replicate, the Patriot Way

  1. For some reason Tom Brady’s name is always used as an example.

    But many veterans over the years have restructured their contracts and stayed with the team.

    But there are those who don’t want to take a cut and end up leaving. Or get traded.

    When Wes Welker was traded it felt like doomsday around here.

  2. There’s only one Belichick. He can’t be replicated, and he’s the whole story. There’s no mystery.

  3. It’s a misconception that players will take less to play for the Pats. What top player other than Brady is taking less to stay with them? The Patriots often have a lot of middle class players because the better players won’t take less. The reason it works for NE is because Belichick is the GOAT and wins with lesser talent than most of the teams he faces in the playoffs.

  4. Even a middle market contract is many times more than most people make their entire lifetime. You want more money? Who doesn’t. If you value that over winning, by all means swing for the fences. But don’t insult the rest of us and embarrass yourself with this breadwinner nonsense.

    No bread is that expensive. At least be honest.

  5. It should be noted that “the Cowboys haven’t even been back to the NFC title game during a 23-year run” coincides with Jerrah’s time as GM. Any other GM would have been long gone with the mediocre results posted under Jerrah’s tenure as GM.

  6. Dak is correct. NE and Tom Brady are outlier’s, for Billionaire wives are not married to NFL QB’s. Personally, I’m not selling my services to any team, including NE, to play for less than my market worth. It’s no different than seeking employment in the real world. No one here would consider working for less money than their talent is worth. The market dictates that worth. Why give your hard earned money away to a billionaire?

  7. Cowboys can be America’s team the patriots are America’s winningest team😉 🏆🏆🏆🏆🏆🏆

  8. The advantage Brady gives the Pats by taking below market value cannot be overstated. IMO the dynasty doesn’t happen without that happeninG, It allows the Pats to have quality depth that other teams can never replicate.

  9. I remember when Scott Pioli tried to replicate “the patriot way” in Kansas City. Was miserable and Led to the worse 4 years of football the Chiefs have had in 30 years.

  10. If you or the Cowboys think the Pats —or the Eagles, Seahawks and a small handful of other teams, for that matter— are straight up asking guys to just take less than their market value, you’re looking down the wrong end of the telescope.

    They preempt holdouts by calling their top guys in early and offering them job security and *more* than they’re currently making. Any number under market value is made up in signing bonuses and incentives.

    If anything, the Eagles and the Pats are the reason why guys like Zeke and Gordon are holding out with a year or two left on their current deals. Those players know they’d be extended if they played for those teams.

    Parity and profit sharing are real, but the players know that not all front offices are created equally.

  11. It’s also helps that the Pats play in one of the worst divisions in football. You can get away with letting better players go when you face the lowly competition they play. Shoot, the Jets have 3 division titles in their history. Unreal!

  12. Belichick builds a 53 man roster every year, and not a starting 22 followed by whatever he can get with his remaining cap space. Belichick knows how to work the cap to the Patriot’s advantage. Kraft has told a story about how when the league was predominantly playing 4-3 defenses, Bill switched to a 3-4 because he knew the demand for free agent LBs had diminished and they could be had for less than the salary of a DL. Also consider how rarely he drafts skill position players in the first round. There’s a reason for that.

  13. Bill for the most part gets discarded players (Van Noy) that other lesser coaches that could not utilize their talent from other teams that are happy just to get a decent contract, as soon as most get better deals they leave. Brady is the one outlier in the entire league. It is Bill’s coaching talent that makes the team. If the Jones’s want replicate the Patriots way I think that is easy, hire an actual talented head coach like the one Jerry ran off because Jerry thought he was a better coach.

  14. I agree with person who commented that it is misconception that players take less to play for Pats. No All Pro or Pro Bowl type player takes less to play for Pats, it is generally the role players like Amendola who take less but by playing for Pats they extend their career. Star players like Devin McCourty, Donta Hightower were paid market value. BB smartly extended Gronk early so he was kind of underpaid but he acted like a pro and did not held out. Btw, the Pats recently gave a raise to Michael Bennet.

  15. I think it has a lot to do with maintaining an expected level of discipline than it does reduced contracts.

  16. Tom Brady aside, who are the “best players” on the Patriots who are signing below-market contracts?

    ———

    I don’t know of current players. Maybe someone else could list them. But in the past:

    Randy Moss took a pay cut to play in NE
    Teddy Bruschi
    Edelman
    Gronk
    Amendola

    I think it got old with Gronk and Amendola so they left.

  17. Yes, and part of the “way” is to not openly mock the player you are negotiating with. You’d never in a million years see Kraft or BB smirk into a microphone and ask “Zeke who”?

  18. While on a trip to Dallas with a friend, and taking the tour of Jerry World (he is a Cowboys fan), I took great pleasure as we walked into the Cowboys locker room and saw the giant plaques on the wall listing teams in order of Super Bowl appearances (Patriots 11 – Cowboys 8) and Super Bowl Victories (Patriots 6 – Cowboys 5), and seeing the Patriots at the top. It was a great photo-op. We had a good time there. The Philly fans were trash though. Pure trash.

  19. It’s easy over simplify and to point to Brady taking less than market value as the reason for the Patriot’s success. More important is Belichick placing a value on a particular position or positions, rather than on an individual player. As a result, he’ll trade a player “a year too early” (pardon the cliche) and get valuable draft picks which are then used to draft players or trade for players that better fit their scheme and at lower cost. They would never pay top value for a running back or a wide receiver (note this Dallas).

  20. I’ve always thought that one of the great advantages of Belichek is that he is both GM and coach.

    GMs need to prove their worth by acquiring the best players. A coach wants players that are coachable and disciplined, if not the most gifted.

    The former needs a big pay day at some point. The latter are fungible.

    Of all the other teams, the unique arrangement with Jerry Jones as owner, GM, and coach (sorry Mr. Clipboard) should allow them to replicate the Patriots success.

    But they never do…

  21. Only the patriots get away with paying players under the table and through fraud foundations like TB12 foundation since Kraft is best friends with goodell. The cheating and felony fraud they get away with is truly sickening. Everyone knows what a fake cheating organization they are. All asterisks

  22. Cowboys need to look for an exceptional QB every year until they really find one. Forget paying Elliot big money and so on. Everything revolves around the QB and better than average is not good enough for any team. The QB and the offensive/defensive systems and the head coach are what bring championships.

  23. It’s also helps that the Pats play in one of the worst divisions in football. You can get away with letting better players go when you face the lowly competition they play. Shoot, the Jets have 3 division titles in their history. Unreal!
    ————
    Yet, they have virtually the same winning percentage against the rest of the league as they do against the AFC East! Go Figure!!
    Can’t wait to see banner # 6 go up!!

  24. All teams face the same situations. One way to solve this for the league is to slot the players by position like they do with the players. So, GM’s and players would select the top 5 players at each position. The team can choose to pay those players the top end of the scale. Then, 6-10 would be at the other end of the pay scale. If you aren’t in the top ten, then you can only get what the teams want to pay you. In other organizations that’s how people get paid based upon a pay scale, if your CEO, your pay range is higher than someone who would is just a manager.

  25. The Cowboys are America’s team? That is news to me. They may call themselves that, but that is similar to Trump calling himself the Extremely Stable Genius, meaning it has no credibility. It is what other people calls the Cowboys that matters, not what they call themselves. People call Einstein a genius, but they do not call Trump a genius. So, if no other people call the Cowboys America’s team except for people in Texas, then they are NOT America’s team. Ask fans in New England, Seattle, Frisco, Washington DC, Minnesota, or New York whether the Cowboys are America’s team. The answer is an overwhelming no, especially since Dallas has not won the Lombardi since 1995.

  26. skawh says:
    August 22, 2019 at 5:34 pm

    No one here would consider working for less money than their talent is worth. The market dictates that worth. Why give your hard earned money away to a billionaire?

    ================

    The owners *are* the market. What a player *thinks* they’re worth – thinking they should be paid more than anyone else at their position – is *not* the market.

    As for giving money “to a billionaire” – no. The billionaires have to pay everyone on the team. Money not paid to a selfish star is available to other players, or the next guy the GM is able to sign to make the team better, as part of the salary cap. With a higher minimum salary spend likely in the next CBA, this will only become more the case.

    The idea that we should side with star players over greedy owners is a trick. The people we should really be siding with are all the hard-working players left with scraps after the stars vacuum up the huge contracts.

  27. More important is Belichick placing a value on a particular position or positions, rather than on an individual player.

    The other thing is that Belichick has the discipline to live by his assessments of value. And he’s an economist by training; he understands the concept of a sunk cost. Every team has guys in the front office who have studied at least some economics, and understand, intellectually, what a sunk cost is. But Belichick is disciplined enough to operate on the reality of sunk costs.

    My favorite example is this – two years ago, they Patriots traded a 2nd round draft pick for Kony Ealy. (They did get a third round pick back, too.) And three weeks into training camp, they cut him, and kept an undrafted player, Adam Butler, who played the same position. How many teams and GMs would have the discipline to keep an undrafted FA over someone for whom they had traded a 2nd round draft pick, and to do it before he’d played a single snap in a regular season game? But Ealy was a sunk cost; once the trade was made, and Butler was on the roster, the two players were competing for one roster spot. It takes enormous discipline to ignore the relative acquisition costs and keep the undrafted FA, but he has it, and it’s one of the Patriots’ real competitive advantages.

  28. If the Pats were getting so much more for less money, they must be pretty far under the cap right?

    The fallacy is looking at salary only and not the roster and signing bonuses that the players received. Players make the same mistake…

  29. It’s important to remember that the Pats success had to come BEFORE the full-fledged establishing of “The Patriot Way”, and individuals would want to take a bit less because they would be guaranteed to be on a winning team. When Cowboys management gets out of its own way, maybe Cowboys players will start to buy in.

  30. riverhorsey says:
    August 22, 2019 at 6:40 pm

    Cowboys need to look for an exceptional QB every year until they really find one. Forget paying Elliot big money and so on. Everything revolves around the QB and better than average is not good enough for any team. The QB and the offensive/defensive systems and the head coach are what bring championships.

    ——————-

    There are not enough “exceptional” QB’s in the league for every team to have one – see the problem with your theory…

  31. If the Pats were getting so much more for less money, they must be pretty far under the cap right?

    ————-

    I would say that NE manages the salary cap well. Consistently.

  32. As I see the Cowboy situation, this team revolves around its defense to prop up a very average QB who is propped up by a better than average malcontent running back who beats up and feels up women; and then they have some wide receiver who matters nothing to this team.

    So, I’d prioritize getting the neanderthal running back back at no higher than top three money; I’d offer the Dakota only a top twelve level of money (he gets discounted for subpar passing touchdown rate and a discount for defaulting to running when confronted with a pass); the win/loss record of this guy is wholly due to the defense, not due to his performance (in fact he could cost the team games); he doesn’t get a bump. I contrast that with Kirk Cousins who won games the defense clearly couldn’t keep in the win column but he has a subtraction of costing his team comebacks that smarter play would have won; but he is not the reason that team was mediocre since his offensive performance was superior to Dakota on every level other than Dakota is a running back and a fake QB).

    The wide receiver should be allowed to depart. He is not an asset and there are better men and players in that position that could be acquired for the same money or less.

    Thus, the cap problem is solved. Good money for BWB. Average money to the fraud QB. And no money to the miscreant wide receiver.

  33. The Patriots have a HOF QB and a HOF GM. That’s a tough match up. The key thing is they also employ a Joe Gibbs type offense, one that was able to win 3 super bowls with 3 different QB’s, none of which were HOFers. Bill Belichick just so happened to have the luxury of being a defensive coordinator who was one of the people trying to defend against Gibbs’ unstoppable system. Belichick was smart enough to copy the system. But as a HOF GM, Belichick is also smart enough to know which positions are crucial to winning. That would be the QB position. Tom Brady is also in a unique situation in that his wife alone is worth $400 million. The entire Patriots’ situation is unique. Some parts can be copied, some can’t. At least the Cowboys have a HOF type QB and a HOF GM. They’re on the right track.

  34. lanman11 says:
    August 22, 2019 at 6:07 pm
    While on a trip to Dallas with a friend, and taking the tour of Jerry World (he is a Cowboys fan), I took great pleasure as we walked into the Cowboys locker room and saw the giant plaques on the wall listing teams in order of Super Bowl appearances (Patriots 11 – Cowboys 8) and Super Bowl Victories (Patriots 6 – Cowboys 5), and seeing the Patriots at the top. It was a great photo-op. We had a good time there. The Philly fans were trash though. Pure trash.
    ——————————–

    Just think what the Cowboys might have accomplished if they had an Owner that know his place.
    A qualified Gm instead of a pretender in Jerry Jones. All of what you speak of was 1995 season
    and prior. That’s when the Cowboys were hated for all their playoff success. Now there hated
    for their Obnoxious Bigmouth Owner and over hyped football team.

  35. Its simple. You have to fully buy into the team concept and be disciplined to even play in New England. Period.

    Dallas pretty much brings in anybody as long as they can play.

  36. The Boys don’t have a Brady and they don’t have a Belichick. It’s not like any great talents are staying on the Pats for low money. They are generally average talent guys who BB coaches up while Brady works his clutch magic. With an average HC and QB the rest of the Pats talent would average 8-8 every year instead of 12-4.

  37. lyfordjr says:
    August 22, 2019 at 7:10 pm

    More important is Belichick placing a value on a particular position or positions, rather than on an individual player.

    The other thing is that Belichick has the discipline to live by his assessments of value. And he’s an economist by training; he understands the concept of a sunk cost. Every team has guys in the front office who have studied at least some economics, and understand, intellectually, what a sunk cost is. But Belichick is disciplined enough to operate on the reality of sunk costs.

    My favorite example is this – two years ago, they Patriots traded a 2nd round draft pick for Kony Ealy. (They did get a third round pick back, too.) And three weeks into training camp, they cut him, and kept an undrafted player, Adam Butler, who played the same position. How many teams and GMs would have the discipline to keep an undrafted FA over someone for whom they had traded a 2nd round draft pick, and to do it before he’d played a single snap in a regular season game? But Ealy was a sunk cost; once the trade was made, and Butler was on the roster, the two players were competing for one roster spot. It takes enormous discipline to ignore the relative acquisition costs and keep the undrafted FA, but he has it, and it’s one of the Patriots’ real competitive advantages.

    35

    1

    Great post! Completely agree.

  38. skawh says:
    August 22, 2019 at 5:34 pm

    Dak is correct. NE and Tom Brady are outlier’s, for Billionaire wives are not married to NFL QB’s. Personally, I’m not selling my services to any team, including NE, to play for less than my market worth. It’s no different than seeking employment in the real world. No one here would consider working for less money than their talent is worth. The market dictates that worth. Why give your hard earned money away to a billionaire?

    Clearly these guys aren’t playing to win – which is why they don’t.

  39. It’s a fair point and even more fair to point out the Cowboys greatest disadvantage, which is coaching. When the Cowboys did win they had Tom Landry and Jimmy Johnson at the helm. Now it’s Garrett. On the other hand one of the reasons Belicheck is allowed to be great is Tom Brady’s self-less nature. The same was true of Tim Duncan in San Antonio and to a lesser extent Dirk in Dallas. In short if you have a smart coach and a self-less superstar the sky’s the limit. Dallas can’t get the 1st half of that equation but if Dak and Zeke were smart they would take care of the 2nd half.

  40. In the Cowboys defense, they don’t try to replicate the Patriots much at all versus other teams in the league. Clearly JJ does things his own way.

    The Patriots don’t pay their superstars (other than Brady) when they are in line for “top 5” $$$. They either let them walk, or trade them before they walk. The Patriots are just better than the Cowboys at creating alternatives when their superstars are approaching contract years.

  41. If you stack up the rosters from the 1990’s Cowboys vs the best teams the Pats had assembled the Boys would smoke the Pats if they played against each other, just look at all the Hall of Famers from the Cowboys.

  42. No one here would consider working for less money than their talent is worth.

    Most people here happily accept employment for less money than they might be able to maximally receive, for a variety of reasons. Primarily location – I could make more money (relative to cost of living) in many places than I do where I currently live, but I love this area of the country, it’s where my family and church are, etc. Or I could probably increase my salary if I were willing to spend more time on the road, more time sitting in traffic, have less flexibility with my hours, again etc.

    We all attempt to maximize our job satisfaction, of which money is certainly a significant, but also significantly not the only, part. When he gets to the end of his career, looking back on it, how much of his career earnings would Aaron Rodgers, for example, be willing to sacrifice, if he could, for two Super Bowl wins?

    Obviously, the Brady situation is sui generis, but we all make trade-offs every day…

  43. Jumpin’ Jiminy Cricket – EVERY team covets the Patriots’ way. 10 SB appearances in the last 23 seasons…? Tell me what team ISN’T envious of that.

  44. “The Cowboys are America’s team? That is news to me. They may call themselves that, but …”

    It’s news to you? Did you just start following football this year? It’s been a thing for 40+ years now – it didn’t start in the 90’s … or in the past off season.

    The Cowboys don’t have to call themselves that. The media does, and has been for a long time. Good or bad, that’s where it started and that’s where it continues.

  45. Aside from Brady, I don’t agree that most of the Patriots best players take less. As a long time Pats fan, what I’ve seen is that Belichick will simply let some good players walk rather than over spend to keep them….Chandler Jones for example. Then they always manage to coach up the new less expensive guys and don’t seem to miss a beat. The Cowboys have 3 huge contracts to deal with right now and that’s going to really tie their hands for roster depth. Belichick won’t allow it. He’ll just let one of them go to free agency and replace him with a young guy in his rookie contract or bring in an a cheaper veteran.

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