The dust has settled on yet another 8-8 season in which the Cowboys again lost their final game when a playoff berth was on the line. Now, the focus will shift to 2014 and how the Cowboys can finally break through the NFC East and into the playoffs.
The team has been one game away in each of the past three seasons, so it's tempting to believe that offseason fine-tuning will turn the Cowboys' close losses into victories and end the playoff drought.
That's an optimistic viewpoint that will hold many fans over until kickoff next season. Unfortunately, it doesn't hold up against the logic test. Several painful truths point to the Cowboys adding more losses than wins in 2014.
Jerry Jones mortgaged the future to make a run at the playoffs. The appearances never materialized, but Dallas will still have to pay down the road.
Truth No. 1: Jason Garrett is not the biggest problem.
One popular thought line is to send Jason Garrett packing. Five NFL head coaches lost their jobs after the season was over, and many Dallas fans hope to see a sixth join the unemployment line. There is some ammo for the anti-Garrett crowd.
The head coach has had several high-profile issues with clock management that have led to tough losses in each of the past three seasons. Unfortunately, getting rid of Garrett won't be the easy fix people are making it out to be. The fact is that Garrett's structure — and, dare I say it, process — has turned the Cowboys from a mess under Wade Phillips into a functional football team.
It's possible that Garrett is a reason why Dallas has even made it to 8-8 the past few seasons. I know that's depressing to think about, but who else would coach this team? Great head coaches don't want to deal with Jerry Jones, no matter how much tradition the Cowboys have.
Truth No. 2: The schedule will likely get much harder next season.
This isn't a given considering the massive changes that NFL teams can go through year to year, but odds are the Cowboys will have a more difficult road to the playoffs next year. The NFC East was the worst it has ever been this season, and the Cowboys still couldn't win it.
The division will most likely be more competitive next year. Outside of the division, Dallas was 3-7 this season. Next year includes games against the rugged NFC West with a game at Seattle, plus games against New Orleans and at Chicago. Suffice it to say there will be very few easy wins in 2014.
Truth No. 3: The Cowboys are currently better at marketing talent than developing it.
If you need hyperbole about current players to sell to the fan base, Jerry Jones is your man. He will crow about how Morris Claiborne is the next Deion Sanders or how impressed he is with safety Matt Johnson.
In reality, however, Claiborne has looked nothing like a top defensive back on his own team, let alone an all-time NFL great like Sanders.
You probably don't even recognize the name Matt Johnson, because he has barely played at all for the Cowboys since he's been here. Developing talent is vital in today's NFL world because young talent is cheap. If a team doesn't have good young players ready to step in and play effectively, that means the team will have to go sign high priced free-agents to play.
That may work for a while, but it will eventually lead to trouble. Speaking of which ...
Truth No. 4: Salary cap hell is coming soon.
Remember how much maneuvering the Cowboys had to do just to get under the 2013 cap? They just made it, but in doing so, added money to their cap for future seasons. What that means is that the Cowboys will be paying in the future for players from this season.
2014 will be even worse in terms of salary cap trouble. Players who no longer wear a Cowboys uniform will count millions of dollar against next year's salary cap.
Not only will the Cowboys have trouble signing any major free agents to add talent to the team, they also will likely have to part ways with current players who count too high against the cap. The days are fast approaching when salaries from players like DeMarcus Ware take huge chunks out of the cap even though they are no longer effective on the field.
All of this doesn't even take into account young players like Dez Bryant, who will need new (and more expensive) contracts very soon.
Jerry Jones mortgaged the future to make a run at the playoffs these past few years. The playoff appearances never materialized, but he will still have to pay down the road.
The Cowboys are coming off a season in which they set records for defensive futility and went 1-6 against teams with a winning record. The only talent that can be infused into the team will be through the draft, but Jones has a putrid record of hitting on draft picks.
It doesn't take a Las Vegas professional to realize that the odds of Dallas getting better grows slimmer every single season.