The League

Peter Schaffer
NFL Agent

Peter Schaffer

Agent and professor of sports law

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In a year where parity is the rallying cry amongst teams in the NFL, with divisions such as the AFC South and NFC North on the rise, the NFC East (made up of tradition-rich, large market teams) still stands out as one of the toughest and most competitive divisions in football. Four relatively evenly matched teams, playing hard-nosed football against each other; the Cowboys, loaded with star-power, are always predicted to make playoff runs, the Redskins acquiring Donovan McNabb and Larry Johnson et al. and a re-vamped defense led by Jim Haslett will surely improve the team's record, and the Giants and Eagles consistently vying for playoff spots with strong rosters from top to bottom, this division is competitive and loaded with talent.

The NFC East is tough. There is no arguing that. The Giants, Redskins, Eagles and Cowboys play smash-mouth, in-your-face football every Sunday that allows them to ultimately win in the latter weeks of the season. Football is not defined by games played on dry surfaces and sunny skies in September, rather by muddy fields, heavy snow and the fierce winds of December. As other teams wear down and look lethargic, the "beasts of the East" continue their physical play and provide fans with the real definition of football. But, one team in particular demands the focus of the nation, and that continues to be the Dallas Cowboys.

In professional football, a team's success is measured in two forms; wins and losses on the field and bottom line success. The Dallas Cowboys have redefined the norm. For 13 seasons, from 1996-2008, the Cowboys did not win one playoff game but they were among the top of the league every year in revenue generation. Ironic? No. Smart business? Yes. The Dallas Cowboys are a worldwide brand and the model for business success in the NFL, with the self-proclaimed nickname "America's Team". They are a franchise that transcends normal business practices, and markets the hell out of their product, while not necessarily winning on the football field. This year, Forbes ranked the Cowboys the second most valued sports franchise in the world, just after the English Premier League's Manchester United, at $1.65 billion. And that is while only winning one playoff game, a divisional playoff game nonetheless, in the last 14 seasons.

Cowboys Owner, President and General Manager, Jerry Jones, creates expectations beyond reason for this team in order to maximize media coverage and obtain overall business success. See, expectations result in hype, and with hype comes the stimulation of public interest, which then results in the expansion of various revenue streams. And the Cowboys are not lacking in revenue, collecting $280 million per year. However, earning the most money in the league every year is not going to buy you wins. There is a difference between football success and business success, and in recent memory, the Cowboys (and other large market teams) have only obtained the latter. Unfortunately, successful business practices do not translate into W's, so in order for the Cowboys to win this season, they need to simply play the game to win and not be worried about all the outside distractions associated with being a preseason Super Bowl favorite (which they did not look like on Sunday night).

For the Cowboys this season, there is not a lack of talent in the locker room, but there is always a question of team chemistry and the addition of Dez Bryant did not help on that front. But wouldn't it be fitting to see "America's Team" be the first team in NFL history to raise the Lombardi on its home turf? Or would it be more fitting to see Dez Bryant carry Roy Williams off the field on his shoulders? While no one knows for sure how the Cowboys' season will end on the field, the team will peak the interest of football fans across the country, and be successful off the field in the bottom line. So perhaps they are overrated on the field, but in terms of overall success, they are not.

Now that week 1 is over, and continuous storylines have been created that remain to be seen throughout the season, it is important to see what will happen from here. Surely, the Redskins' Albert Haynesworth and Donovan McNabb will be in the news. Haynesworth's seeming lack of focus and bad attitude could both poison the Redskins locker room and affect the team's performance, or he can change gears and join the victory parade using his undeniable talent to assist the team's defense. Add in a dose of McNabb, who could be the guiding light the Redskins have been looking for since Joe Theismann, and the Redskins should be a greatly improved team. The Giants and the Eagles will also stake their claim for eastern supremacy. The Giants willed their way to victory versus the Panthers, and the Eagles valiantly came up short in their comeback attempt against arguably one of the elite teams in the league, the Packers.

The NFL season is long and only the correct mixture of elements: team cohesiveness, talent and luck leads to a team raising the Lombardi trophy. In order to win, teams must avoid the injury bug, still have the talent and chemistry to push through the grind of an NFL season, and of course get lucky; sometimes very lucky (see the Bears over the Lions yesterday). The Steelers looked like repeat contenders last season until two key defensive players were lost for the season due to injury (Aaron Smith and Troy Polamalu). Even one injury to a franchise player can lead to the demise of a season.

Also, look for elite quarterbacks to dominate the NFL this season. When the leaves start falling, and the weather turns bitter, teams need to lean on an effective ball control type of offense, usually led by one of the elite quarterbacks. In order to compete, opposing offenses must employ effective running and short passing games because it is a daunting task trying to win a shootout against one of these quarterbacks.

Football is still the ultimate team game. Although some players put themselves above the team, championship teams are always built through team camaraderie and the focus of accomplishing a common goal. It seems like more players are catching on to the fad of self-promotion and are doing anything possible to get their names in the press. Players need to realize that contract rewards come through team success, as well as individual success. It will be interesting to see which players come through for their respective teams this winter and wind up ironically playing for the Lombardi Trophy in none other than the Palace in Dallas, the House that Jerry built, Cowboys Stadium. Further proof that even if the Cowboys are not the NFC's representative in the game, and thus they have underperformed on the field, they will have as usual over-performed off of the field.

By Peter Schaffer  |  September 14, 2010; 9:56 AM ET  | Category:  Dallas Cowboys , New York Giants , Philadelphia Eagles , Super Bowl , Washington Redskins Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Good insight. After Sundays showing against the Redskins, it is clear that the Cowboys will definitely struggle at the offensive line position this year. With that said, there is no way the Cowboys will win the Super Bowl. Heck, they might not even win the division.

Posted by: kwes3 | September 14, 2010 12:55 PM

The NFC East is without a doubt the strongest division in football. The Cowboys will continue to set the bar for team marketing in the NFL. This article does a great job of explaining why expectations are always high in Dallas.

Posted by: TopChedda19 | September 14, 2010 12:56 PM

Jerry Jones is one of the most business savvy owners in the NFL, without doubt. He just need to cook up a formula for his team to have on-the-field success. My suggestion, be like Jackie Moon of the Flint tropics. He should become the coach, manager, player. By the way, topchedda19, NFC East is not the strongest division in football. You would have to look at the AFC for that, specifically, AFC South or North.

Posted by: eazy_festyahoocom | September 15, 2010 3:28 PM

The NFC East is without a doubt the most overrated division in football. The Giants and Redskins are average at best, the McNabb-less Eagles are a joke, and the Cowboys are the poster children for overratedness (i know it's not a word). Every year they are favorites to make some noise and every year they do absolutely nothing.

Posted by: reeeiisin4robyn | September 15, 2010 3:32 PM

The Cowboys may be overrated on the field, but never fail to impress off the field. Afteall, they are "America's Team". Nice article.

Posted by: sm235009 | September 15, 2010 3:38 PM

The Cowboys may be overrated on the field, but never fail to impress off the field. Afterall, they are "America's Team". Nice article.

Posted by: sm235009 | September 15, 2010 3:39 PM

This isn't 1993. No one outside of Texas cares about the Cowboys anymore.

Posted by: reeeiisin4robyn | September 15, 2010 5:49 PM

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