By Mac Engel, McClatchy Newspapers
FORT WORTH, Texas — It was not too long ago when Wade Phillips told us that this team was in the right cycle to win now. It feels like just last year he said it.
Sadly, when Uncle Wade uttered those famous words, it was January 2008.
Unless this current trend is reversed, preferably beginning tonight in Tampa Bay against the Bucs, we have already witnessed the glory days of the 21st century Dallas Cowboys. That would mean the highlight would be 2007.
What we are watching is a core that is in the final year of its prime, and so far the highlight of these Cowboys is the ‘07 NFC East title that was followed with a divisional round playoff loss against the Giants.
If you want to throw in the wild-card win against the Eagles in the ‘09 season, take it.
The NFL always requires a sense of urgency because the schedule is so short. Now there should be an additional feeling for the Cowboys to hurry up and get winning because so many of these players have either just passed, or are very close, to the down side of their careers.
“There is a sense of urgency not because we are getting older but because we are here to win games,” receiver Miles Austin said.
Many members of this core are getting up there. Within the next year, Tony Romo will be 32, Jason Witten 30, DeMarcus Ware 30, Terence Newman 34, Keith Brooking 37, Bradie James 31, Jay Ratliff 31, Jason Hatcher 30, Kenyon Coleman 33, Abe Elam 31 and Marcus Spears 29.
Felix Jones will only be 25, but running backs age in dog years. Some others — Anthony Spencer, Gerald Sensabaugh, Austin — will have a year left in their prime.
“It’s a dynamic all teams have and sometimes younger players don’t have the experience enough to know how hard it is to get into a position and control your own destiny,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said Thursday. “The older guys are trying to impart wisdom on younger guys. They have a sense of urgency. “Our whole team does.”
Bill Parcells had a saying, “Younger players get better, older players get older.”
Old for the NFL is 30. Other than knowing how to take care of their bodies a little better, few players improve much after this number.
That’s who they are.
The average length of an NFL career, depending on whether you believe the league or the players’ union, is about six years or roughly 3 1/2 years. The Cowboys are steadily loading up on older guys who have outlived the average length of an NFL career as defined by either side.
This depth chart is going to require a dramatic turnover this off-season, and finding the replacements among this current group is not easy.
The Cowboys are very shortly going to need a safety, a cornerback, an inside linebacker, some defensive ends, one or two guards and always more running backs.
Throw in developing a quarterback, too.
The “encouraging” news, the way it stands now, is that this group has time left to do something about its own fate before the process of adding and subtracting begins sometime in March or April. The way the NFL postseason is, both seeding and home field have become nearly irrelevant. Just get in.
Though the collective confidence in these Cowboys right now hovers somewhere around zero, the players themselves sound like they believe, despite what has happened in each of the last two weeks.
One of Red’s big themes is to get better each day. I asked Romo on Thursday if he felt that the team had done that.
“Yeah, I do,” he said.
Miles Austin on the same question: “Yes,” he said.
How can a team that is 7-6 and coming off a pair of close losses say that?
“Obviously in the attempt to get better, we’re not perfect, bad things are going to happen,” he said. “We are getting better and that’s our attempt to get better every day.”
Not sure what any of that means, but it sure sounds like his head coach.
The Cowboys have three games remaining to add another game to their schedule. Much of this core has three games remaining to reverse yet another December (self) destruction.
Three games remaining to give themselves a chance to create a legacy that says not only are they still in the right cycle to win, but their lasting impression on this franchise will be more than one division title and a wild-card victory.