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The Cowboys keep trying to change the meaning of the term “all-in”

Jerry Jones hasn’t put his football team in the Super Bowl, or even in the NFC Championship game, since 1995. Keeping his franchise at an extremely high degree of national prominence for the past 30 years without significant on-field success is arguably more impressive than winning a Super Bowl during those three decades.

Here’s something else that’s impressive. In fewer than three months, Jones and the Cowboys have altered the meaning of the term “all-in.”

Everyone knows what “all-in” means (or at least we used to). You’re playing poker. You’re being careful with your chips. You’re biding your time. And then the moment arrives when you believe you have a great hand and you put it all on the line by pushing all of your chips into the middle of the table and going for broke.

It started during a discussion with reporters at the Senior Bowl. He didn’t use the term spontaneously. He was asked about going all-in, in the normal sense. Focusing on the present, not the future. Putting the chips in the middle of the table.

Here’s what he said: “I would anticipate with looking ahead at our key contracts we’d like to address, we’ll be all-in. I would anticipate we’ll be all-in at the end of the year. . . . It will be going all-in on different people than you’ve done in the past. We’ll be going all-in. We’ve seen some things out of some of the players that we want to be all-in on. And that, yes, I would say that you would see us this coming year not building for the future, is the best way I know to say it. That ought to answer a lot of questions.”

It did, until it didn’t. Because the Cowboys have done nothing to prove they’re going all-in. Contracts with current players haven’t been addressed. Significant help hasn’t been acquired from other teams.

Instead, the Cowboys have offered up every possible definition for “all-in,” except the definition it’s always had. In so doing, we’re now left to consider whether “all-in” actually does mean something other than what “all-in” has always meant.

Most recently, Stephen Jones has suggested the Cowboys are “all-in” every year, because they always max out the salary cap.

“All-in” is supposed to reflect a stunning and abrupt lightning strike of confidence. A lunge for the brass ring even if it means falling off the horse. A damn-the-torpedoes commitment to the present, regardless of what that means for the future.

Jerry Jones hasn’t done that this year. He never has. He’s apparently not willing to do anything now that might force him to take a step back in a later year. Because if/when the Cowboys ever fade from contention for two or three straight years, they might lose their hammerlock on the “America’s Team” moniker, and the profile and profit that goes along with it.

I’ve been wondering for a while whether Jones truly wants to desperately win another Super Bowl, or whether he’s just a carnival barker who hopes to say what’s necessary to get the suckers born every minute to open their wallets every year, for tickets and jerseys and hats and overpriced food and beverages at AT&T Stadium. And, just as importantly, to flock their eyeballs to Cowboys games on national TV.

That’s my current assessment. He’s a salesman. A huckster. A guy who pretends to want to reach the top of the mountain while counting the cash in his tent at basecamp.

And it has worked. For years. Saying he’s “all-in” in late January was just part of the process of getting fans to think things will be better in 2024. Then, after the fans go “all-in” with the renewals of season tickets for the coming season, the Cowboys can do something other than go “all-in,” while claiming that they actually are “all-in.” That “all-in” means something other than what it always has.

Yes, it’s an impressive trick. A sleight of hand that lets Jerry pick the pockets of those who still hope to see the Cowboys turn the clock back to the early 1990s.

The risk is that fans will start to figure it out. After last year’s embarrassing wild-card loss to the Packers, what have the Cowboys done to improve the team? The coach who claims now one saw the upset coming is back. (That admission alone should have gotten Mike McCarthy fired, frankly, because he should have seen it coming and taken action to avoid it.) No new players who will significantly upgrade the roster have been signed. Several have left, including 40 percent of the starting offensive line.

The Cowboys are currently worse, not better, than the team that won the division and lost badly in the first round of the playoffs. That makes Jones’s repeated use of the term “all-in” even more jarring, in hindsight.

That makes it’s hard not to wonder whether the end result to the coming campaign will prompt plenty of customers to go all-out for 2025.

Of course, that’s when Jones will fashion with a new pitch for keeping them engaged, possibly by hiring Bill Belichick to coach the team.

“Step right up, folks. Come one, come all to see the greatest coach in the history of worldwide sports take the Dallas Cowboys to unprecedented heights in the year twenty twenty-five. Marvel at the surly curmudgeon who does nothing but win and win and win. Yes, folks, this is the year you will not want to miss. We are all-in. Well not all-in the way I meant it last year but all-in the way that will make you give us all your money, again. Oh wait, did I say that out loud? Never mind that, how ‘bout them Cowboys?”