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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, April 11, 2010

NFL: McNabb trade to Redskins, Jerry Jones’ quiet off-season astonishing

By Tim Cowlishaw
The Dallas Morning News

It's a good thing they are blowing up Texas Stadium on Sunday morning because it gives Cowboys fans something to talk about.

Memories. That's pretty much all anyone has right now.

Memories of Roger in the fourth quarter. Memories of Tom shouting, "No, Danny, no." Memories of a young defending champion living up to its cocky coach's NFC title game boast of: "Put it in three-inch headlines. We will win the game."

And, of course, there are memories of the first season at the new Cowboys Stadium, highly successful by current franchise standards in that the home schedule ended with a playoff victory.

These memories are good to hang onto because the Cowboys have done the impossible this off-season.

A team owned by Jerry Jones has disappeared from the NFL's radar screen.

What if you had been asked to rank these NFC East-altering moments, in order of surprise, going into the off-season?

1. After 11 seasons and five NFC title games, the Eagles will get rid of Donovan McNabb.

2. After a miserable season that leads to Mike Shanahan's arrival, the Redskins will get McNabb.

3. The Cowboys — in an uncapped year, mind you — will do nothing in free agency.

Even with all the rumors floating around about Oakland, about Arizona, I never thought the Eagles would trade McNabb. I figured they had one bullet left to fire in 2010. They were pretty close to a division title and a first-round home date last year, but at the end of the season, they couldn't block the Cowboys' pass rush and they couldn't get near Tony Romo.

Still, I didn't see them trying to reload with Kevin Kolb at quarterback. Only the Eagles have a clue as to what that means. The rest of us haven't seen Kolb. I would say big surprise.

As for the Redskins, getting McNabb once he became available was newsworthy, mostly because it was a within-the-division trade. I'm not the least bit surprised that general manager Bruce Allen — who would have been a nice hire for Dallas if the Cowboys were ever interested in such a thing — or Shanahan wanted McNabb.

Even on the downside of his career, and I think that's clearly where McNabb is although not by much, he's preferable to Jason Campbell. And while I don't think it lifts the Redskins out of the No. 4 spot in the division, I think they are much closer to the top three.

But clearly, the Cowboys have produced the biggest surprise of the off-season. I understand that they did much of their work ahead of time, signing their top players before the uncapped season arrived. I don't question the fact that they have as much talent going into a draft as they have had in more than a decade.

That doesn't change the fact that their competitors — not just in the division but in the conference the Cowboys dearly hope to represent in the next Super Bowl — have been much busier in acquiring talent.

If there was a gap between the Cowboys and the teams below them (basically everyone other than New Orleans and Minnesota), it is closing, even if it's only slightly.

When Jones spoke to reporters at the NFL scouting combine, he talked about how much change he anticipated in the roster. I thought that was a good thing. I didn't think it was just misinterpreted Jerry-speak.

Getting rid of tackle Flozell Adams and safety Ken Hamlin may have been the proper things to do, with or without a salary cap. It doesn't change the fact that they will be replaced by the less experienced likes of Doug Free and Alan Ball.

And even if those players are ready, the important backup roles they held will go to inexperienced players, possibly even college players not yet drafted.

What it all means is the 2010 draft, now just 11 days away, is huge for the Cowboys.

This team can't have a repeat of 2009, where it sits on the sideline for hours and hours. It needs a draft more reminiscent of 2008, although I'm not thinking that the next Felix Jones or Mike Jenkins is on his way in the first round.

By design, the Cowboys have played it low-key in free agency. That's OK. There wasn't a heck of a lot of talent changing hands, even for those who went out with money to burn.

But a team can't combine a zero on its free-agency scorecard with a lack of immediate help in the draft.

Winning a single playoff game has never been the goal for this franchise. With a certain big event coming to Cowboys Stadium in February, that can't possibly be the goal now.