One night on display in Santa Clara, and the Cowboys roster is crying out for Earl Thomas. But not for the reasons you might think.
The Cowboys’ need to trade for the Seattle safety has nothing to do with the 49ers pulling ahead in the final seconds to win, 24-21. All we need to recall about winning exhibition games is Jimmy Johnson and Jerry Jones running into the Texas Stadium tunnel, arm in arm, after a late field goal finished a 3-1 preseason for Dallas in 1989.
A week later reality and the New Orleans Saints hit them both smack in the face with a 28-0 decision that was merely the first of 15 losses that year.
So it’s not about exhibition outcomes.
And it’s not even about surrendering 356 passing yards to a team that lacks elite receivers. The first-team defense held the remarkably wealthy Jimmy Garoppolo to 34 yards on 3-of-6 passing before C.J. Beathard and Nick Mullens came in to throw for 322 yards against second- and third-stringers.
Actually, I thought the secondary was better than the Cowboys’ pass rush, given that the three 49ers quarterbacks threw the ball 39 times without taking a sack.
But it’s not because Dallas lost or looked bad that the team needs Thomas. It’s because, for most of the night, the Cowboys looked pretty good.
It’s a first preseason game and no one should make too much of anything, although we surely will hear that Baker Mayfield already has proved Cleveland correct for taking him first or that the Giants’ Saquon Barkley will win the rushing title as a rookie. No, you have to be careful with first impressions when the Browns look good and the Eagles look bad.
The Cowboys have youth on their side this season. No one over the age of 30 lined up for either the offense or defense Thursday night. That is different. And the team clearly has an interesting can’t-lose choice to make at middle linebacker where Jaylon Smith is moving like a first-round pick and Leighton Vander Esch actually was one.
It’s because this team looks like it has a chance to do something in 2018 that you wonder why the Jones family doesn’t help things along by adding Thomas. How much would a leader, a captain, a decorated Pro Bowl free safety who changed the way the Legion of Boom was able to play and succeed in Seattle help this young team?
The answer has to be considerably.
He can’t make it any more clear that he wants out of Seattle and onto the Cowboys’ roster. Thomas has been doing and saying it since December. It’s not necessarily an easy transaction to give up a third- or fourth-round pick, especially when you watch Thursday’s game and see Michael Gallup scoring the first touchdown and defensive end Dorance Armstrong beating his man repeatedly.
The contract that Thomas is seeking isn’t minimal, although as a young team the Cowboys can find the money.
We don’t do these things because they are easy. We do them because they are hard.
(Someone else may have said that line before me, I’m not sure).
There’s a sense that this organization is willing to settle for small progress, for steps in the right direction and a 10-6 wild-card finish. Why not go for 12-4? Why not recognize that with DeMarcus Lawrence at end and Smith, Sean Lee and Vander Esch at linebacker, the defense has special talent in the front seven but nothing but solid young players likely to struggle at times in the secondary?
Any of the four players I just mentioned could finish this season in the Pro Bowl. Can you reasonably say that about Byron Jones or Chidobe Awuzie at corner? Those are long shots, and not because they aren’t decent players but because they lack experience.
It’s not because the Cowboys need to get safety Xavier Woods off the field but because they need to help Anthony Brown and Jourdan Lewis and everyone involved in the process that the situation cries out for Thomas.
We understand it’s hardball the two teams are playing, a waiting game to see which one picks up the phone first. I don’t know what’s wrong with the Cowboys making that call, sacrificing a pick in next year’s draft and announcing to their fans that the time to win some big games is now.
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