We hear it all the time: 'The Mavs need to get younger.' 'The Cowboys need to start a youth movement.' But let me call to the stand Nowitzki, Novavek, Haley, Chandler, Moose and Kidd as my witnesses for the defense of the old player - as long as he's still a player ...
DONUT 1: The most difficult aspect of experiencing greatness is saying “goodbye’’ to it.
The Dallas Cowboys – truly great in the early-and-mid ’90 -- struggled mightily to do that in the years following their Super Bowl climb. Therefore owner Jerry Jones poured money at the problem of the franchise’s eventual decline with new contracts for three of the stalwarts on those title teams.
In 1995, defensive end Charles Haley was given a $12 million contract that was to pay him through 1999.
In 1995, tight end Jay Novacek was given a $4.8 million contract that was to pay him through 1997.
In 1997, fullback Daryl Johnston was given a $7.6 million contract that was to pay him through 2000.
Jerry gambled $23.4 million on the notion that Haley, Novacek and Johnston could do it … one more time.
And how did the dice fall?
The 1995 team won that third Super Bowl, of course. But then … Haley played just five games in 1996 before retiring (and then making what doctors thought was an ill-advised comeback with the 49ers). Novacek played 15 games in 1995 and never played again. Johnston played in the first game of the 1999 season and never played again.
The three Cowboys were rewarded for previous accomplishments and were provided with 12 years worth of contracts.
What Jones got in return? Following that final Super Bowl, he got two total years of service.
DONUT 2: That is exactly what motivates Jones, overseer of the latest edition of the Cowboys, to make moves like the salary-dump of five-time Pro Bowl center Andre Gurode. Conventional wisdom labels this “a youth movement,’’ but that’s too simplistic.
More accurate: Jones and coach Jason Garrett are attempting to divorce themselves from aging mediocrity.
"We're trying to put the best 53 together and the best eight guys on the practice roster," said Garrett, "so we can be as good as we can be now and going forward. … We don't want to live in the past. Sometimes players get evaluated based on what they've done in the past.’’
DONUT 3: The issues folded into one paragraph there from RedBall are ones the Dallas Mavericks know very well.
"The best roster'' isn't necessarily "the youngest roster.'' We all want bright, shiny new toys. So Russell Westbrook SEEMS more attractive (meaning "better'') than Jason Kidd.
What the Cowboys have done isn’t a quality guarantee of second-year center Phil Costa over the departed Gurode, or running back DeMarco Murray over the departed Marion Barber, or unproven receiver Kevin Ogletree over the departed Roy Williams. Marc Colombo is gone and Leonard Davis is gone and what do you want to bet there are maybe two more of these transactions coming before Opening Day?
But I don’t have guarantees of improvement. Rather, this is an explanation of what’s fueling Jerry’s apparent wallet-squeezing. ... and what drives part of the management style of The Triangle of Trust down at the AAC.
DONUT 4: “Getting younger’’ is a trite and empty concept. And I can prove it.
If it was cap-doable, wouldn’t a team like to add elite-at-their-positions stars Peyton Manning (36), Steve Hutchinson (33) and Ray Lewis (36)?
The Cowboys aren’t just trying to avoid getting old. They're trying to avoid being old AND mediocre AND overpaid.
DONUT 5: This, fortunately, is not a Mavs problem (at this moment, anyway). There is no evidence that 13 years of professional basketball has pushed Dirk Nowitzki to the horizon of his career. Tyson Chandler, it can be argued, is at 28 just now blossoming into his best self; I'd like to see him around here at 30 and 32 and more.
DONUT 6: I'm not prepared to make that argument for the future and across the board. I can see Jason Terry declining athletically, for instance. (If you could deal him now, at the height of his profile, wouldn't you?) But Kidd? He's 38, and as I've said many times, I want him around this team, in some capacity (starting point guard, backup PG if somebody is good enough to beat him out, assistant coach when it's all done) forever.
DONUT 7: You know Jerry Jones; he’s not in any way conceding that the Cowboys are a non-contender. The realities of rebuilding a team that was just 6-10 last year may take hold soon enough. But if there is ever a time for NFL team optimism, it’s in Week Zero, right?
And you watch: When the Cowboys struggle, they will cite the Mavs as a team that overcame difficulties to win a title. The Mavs will provide Jerry a thread of hope (and a way to sell tickets to the hopefuls.)
DONUT 8: About 15 years ago, Jones told me that his two greatest personnel gaffes of the 90’s involved the overvaluing in trade of big back Alonzo Highsmith and the supplemental first-round acquisition of quarterback Steve Walsh. That was before the mid-90’s, when he crossed his fingers and planned on a bunch of great players in their 30’s being able to remain great well beyond a logical point.
Even at the time, I saw it as reminiscent of what my Minnesota Vikings did with their terrific “Purple People Eaters’’ defensive line featuring all-timers Alan Page, Carl Eller and Jim Marshall. Those guys were the foundation of a franchise that qualified for four Super Bowls, which made it very hard to say goodbye.
DONUT 9: So Marshall played an amazing 19 NFL seasons. He set iron-man records by never missing a start and was and is a public treasure in Minnesota. But how effective, really, was Marshall in 1979, when he was a 42-year-old defensive end? Eller was a six-time Pro Bowler and a five-time first-team All-Pro. He’s in the Hall of Fame. He played until he was 37, at which point he wasn’t the fearsome Carl Eller anymore. And Page? The Vikings were glad to part ways with the first defensive player to win NFL MVP when the future Hall-of-Famer (and nine-time Pro Bowler and six-time first-team All-Pro) decided at age 36 that he wanted to run marathons and transformed himself into a 220-pound defensive tackle.
DONUT 10: Those Vikings didn’t say goodbye early enough. With Novacek, Johnston and Haley, the Cowboys didn’t do it in a timely way, either.
DONUT 11: It’s hard to say “goodbye’’ to greatness. But then there is this, two different applications for two different franchises:
DONUT 12: When it comes to the Cowboys’ recent moves, it shouldn’t feel all that painful. After all, how many Super Bowls did Gurode, Barber and Williams and their ilk play in, anyway?
And when it comes to the Mavs? Saying goodbye will have to happen ... and Mark Cuban has plenty of examples from down the highway of how it should and should not be done.