Sink or swim: Can Jerry Jones end 23-year absence from Super Bowl or will Cowboys fall short once again?

Editor’s note: The following story is a part of the 2019 Cowboys/NFL preview section, which will be included in print editions of The Dallas Morning News on Thursday, Sept. 5.

Jerry Jones embraces life in a way few can match.

Whether it’s upping the value of the Cowboys to astronomical heights or downing a Johnnie Walker Blue, the architect behind the world’s most valuable sports franchise is constantly on the move. One of his newest possessions, the Bravo Eugenia, will be docked in South Florida for Super Bowl LIV.

It won’t mean nearly as much if his most-prized possession is unable to make the trip.

Jones has acquired much in his 76 years. But for all of the wealth, real estate toys and attention he’s accumulated, the accomplishments — or failures — of his football team resonate in a way nothing else does.

Yes, Jones recently purchased a 358-foot yacht. It’s nice to cruise the Mediterranean when the pavement and business parks of Frisco get too hot. But outside of his family, the owner’s true joy sinks or swims with what the Cowboys do on the field.

Jones doesn’t freely articulate his Super Bowl expectations the way he once did heading into a season. A 23-year absence has a way of making even the most optimistic of individuals cautious.

But there’s a persistent, yet understated, optimism throughout the organization that this team has what it takes to return.

The Bravo Eugenia cost $250 million. It has two helipads, a spa, a gym and 22 cabins to accommodate family, guests and crew. It doesn’t have a plank.

If the Cowboys fall short of expectations, it may need one for head coach Jason Garrett.

“I expect us to be a better team, and I think that our personnel supports that,” Jones said during the news conference to open training camp. “Our experience gained supports that. I’m real impressed with the staff that Jason has put together here. So I expect us to be better.

“Part of that, it should result in maybe advancing our record, or if you will, our place in the playoffs. It should result in that. That’s the assumption you make, that if you’re a better team and you’ve put together a sound one that can stay healthy, then you should be able to do better than you did last year.

“That is what I would call success.”

The Cowboys are coming off their third NFC East title in the last five years. Only one team in the NFL has more division titles in that span.

New England.

What do the Cowboys have to show for it? The team has stalled in the divisional round each time.

The nucleus is young. But if the Cowboys fail to get past the second round again, it means quarterback Dak Prescott and running back Ezekiel Elliott have been unable to nudge the team beyond the bar set their rookie seasons. It would indicate a ceiling has been hit.

That’s why Garrett enters the final year of his contract.

Stephen Jones believes Garrett remains the right man for the job. But the club’s executive vice president has acknowledged repeatedly in recent months that this team needs to push deeper into the postseason.

“I’ve never seen this team not play hard for him, even in tough situations,” Stephen Jones said. “I’ve always seen his teams play hard for Jason all the way to the end, even when we knew in some cases we were out of it. The guys respond well to him. They play hard for him.”

But?

“We’ve got to take the next step,” he said.

Seattle. Carolina. Atlanta. Philadelphia. The LA Rams. Those are the five NFC teams to advance to the Super Bowl the last five years.

The Seahawks are the only one of those teams to have won more regular-season games than the Cowboys in that span.

Players and coaches have largely refused to advance the argument that this is their time. They have generally avoided the stance that they are due, or, as their fans would rail, past due.

That’s why it was striking recently when linebacker Jaylon Smith casually mentioned how the Cowboys were “on our quest to win the Super Bowl.”

He has no problem saying it out loud?

“That’s why we play the game,” he said. “Any team in the National Football League, if that’s not your goal, then you shouldn’t be out here. We’re focused each and every day on bettering ourselves.”

There’s no guarantee this team will reach the NFC Championship Game with a chance to return to the Super Bowl. But the Cowboys appear to be in better position than most in the conference.

Elliott’s holdout dominated much of the conversation surrounding the Cowboys in August. An impending extension for Prescott was right behind.

The beauty of Prescott, in the mind of Jerry Jones, is that the contract status of the quarterback in no way impacts his approach to the season.

“Everybody’s boat, if we could have that great year, we’d go to the stratosphere, and Dak and I would be riding with it,” Jerry Jones said.

Jerry Jones will have his yacht in Miami during Super Bowl week one way or the other. Will the team be with him?

If not, there will be consequences.

Twitter: @DavidMooreDMN

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