We're getting deep into the NFL playoffs which means, more often than not lately, the Dallas Cowboys are already deep into their off-season. That's led once again to a lot of hand wringing and deep thinking around Valley Ranch, where the only thing bigger than Jerry Jones' ego was the collapse of his ill-assembled team of malcontents and superstars.
Hard to imagine now, but a year ago this NFL weekend, the Cowboys were at home hosting the New York Giants and agonizingly close to a spot in the NFC championship game against the Green Bay Packers. If not for Tony Romo's ill-timed trip to Mexico with Jessica Simpson and an even more untimely second-half offensive drought, the Cowboys had a real shot at their sixth Lombardi Trophy.
Any hopes of that this season ended on an embarrassing Sunday in Philadelphia, where Jones' mad assemblage of talent fell apart while a befuddled Wade Phillips looked on helplessly. On that day, the Cowboys were totally exposed for what they were -- a collection of stars who had no concept -- and seemingly little desire -- of how to act together as a team.
On most teams, that might have cost the coach his job. But the mad scientist who owns the Cowboys vowed even before the season came crashing down that Phillips will be back and he likely will, if only because Jones finds him so pliable that he will do his bidding without uttering a peep of dissent.
The bloodletting, though, had to begin somewhere. There's no way the Cowboys can inaugurate their new billion-dollar stadium next season with the same cast of characters who imploded so spectacularly and expect the suffering oilmen and bankers of Texas to drop whatever money they have left on Jones' luxury suites.
Romo, of course, was safe. So was Roy Williams, the latest addition to Jones' stable of overpriced and underproducing players.
Terrell Owens may not be, though he will apparently live to play another day despite the call of two Dallas-area newspaper columnists for the Cowboys to dump their biggest distraction.
That left Pacman Jones, already out of chances, and now pretty much out of options.
The talking heads at ESPN tried to intimate this week it was their investigation of an Atlanta strip club shooting in 2007 that doomed Pacman, but the timing between the report scheduled to air today on Outside the Lines and Jones' dismissal a few days earlier seems to be nothing but coincidental.
I've only seen a few minutes of the program released by ESPN and, while it seems very dramatic with surveillance video and darkened silhouettes, there doesn't seem to be a lot of substance behind it. Unless there's something the network is holding back, it's mostly conjecture and speculation from people who don't identify themselves, and the incident is already one well known and already investigated by Atlanta police.
No, the real reason Pacman was canned from the Cowboys doesn't seem to have anything to do with what he did off the field. If the Las Vegas strip club shooting that left a bouncer paralyzed for life wasn't enough to stop Jerry Jones from signing the cornerback, the Atlanta incident surely wasn't going to be a reason for getting rid of him.
Pacman lost his job because he committed the ultimate sin for a player -- he didn't produce. In 10 games with the Cowboys, he played only so-so, and in the game against the Eagles, he was called for a crucial penalty and committed a fumble. The player who was so dominant as a rookie with Tennessee looked like nothing more than a struggling journeyman for the Cowboys.
So if Jerry Jones can't handle him, will any team give Pacman yet another chance he doesn't deserve?
Doubtful, though Pacman himself made an appearance yesterday on CBS to plead his case to return to the league. He even suggested it might be with the Cowboys, of all teams.
"I think I'll be playing football next year," he said. "If I had to pick somewhere, I think it would be in Dallas. I love Dallas."
He was expendable, and now he's been expended.
The Cowboys believe they're better for it, though for all the wrong reasons.
But there's no question the NFL is better for it, for all the right reasons.