From 2003-2006, I considered Bill Parcells' press conferences to be required viewing. Sure, when he was in a bad mood, he was irritable and grumpy and gave the press (and me, the listener) very little. But other times, he was ebullient and, like that one uncle who has a million crazy stories and tells them at Thanksgiving after the meal, would push his chair back from the table and regale us on a wide variety of topics: football lore; his personal history; team building; player development. When he discussed his personality or team building, it was clear that he was a pessimistic thinker and a type-A worrywort, qualities that manifested in his need to articulate what he called "contingencies" for every possible negative outcome.
The upside of this is that, under his tenure, the team was most often prepared for these challenges, both in terms of odd or unusual game situations, which he drilled endlessly, and personnel. Parcells always toted around a list of possible replacement players should one of his guys go down with an injury (I imagine a rumpled sheaf of yellow notebook paper with long lists of scribbled names, many of them inked out or lined through). In short, Big Bill saw the NFL as a league where your pants were going to be pulled down, and always wanted to make sure he had another pair under them so that nobody would see him in his skivvies.
The Cowboys recent pickup of journeyman offensive tackle Pat McQuistan reminded me of Parcells, not because he was a seventh-rounder in Parcells final Cowboys draft (2006), but because his pickup brought to mind Parcells' obsession with "contingencies." When the signing was announced, many Cowboys fans decried it as another instance of the Dallas brass bringing in already-failed projects; they saw McQ as the offensive line's version of Akwasi Owusu-Ansah. It was not long before cooler (and more informed) heads prevailed. Former Dallas scout Bryan Broaddus was quick to inform us that McQuistan was brought in for one specific reason: to play right tackle in the preseason.
Why is this important, and what might it represent? You're gonna have to jump, people, if you wanna find out...
The Cowboys need McQuistan on the roster, Broaddus explained, because it assists in the evaluation of all the other backups, particularly the second- and third-string skill position players. In preseasons past, when there has been a precipitous talent drop-off between their starting O-line and the backups, the Cowboys have had a difficult time assessing the back up quarterbacks, running backs and receivers, because there has been precious little time to throw and no holes to run through.
In Kyle Orton, they have a veteran backup who can make all the throws, and who is eminently capable of leading second-half scoring drives in preseason games. But so much of this (and of the development of the guys around him) depends on offensive line play. Will he have any time to throw? Who knows whether a rookie wideout can make a play when his quarterback is running for his life before the play has a chance to develop? How can a free agent running back show his stuff when the guys in front of him are getting stonewalled? The answer is: they can't.
And, by extension, the coaching staff and personnel guys can't do their jobs. Instead of ascertaining how a guy might succeed should he have to play with the first string offense by seeing how he fares against NFL competition, they have to rely on training camp performance to determine whether a guy has what it takes - and that provides flawed (because incomplete) judgements. When one of the foremost offseason questions concerns who will be the team's third, fourth and fifth receivers, it becomes clear that the Dwayne Harrises and Raymond Radways of the roster must be given time to complete deep routes and make plays.
Which brings us back to McQuistan. After seeing the recent crop of free agent offensive tackles in rookie minicamps and a series of OTAs, the Cowboys front office wasn't convinced that the likes of Jeff Adams and Levy Adcock and Tyrone Novikoff would be able to hold up in the second halves of preseason games, thus allowing legitimate evaluations to occur. I think they feel good about the backup left tackle, Jermey Parnell, but a solid LT doesn't mean much when the RT is a swinging gate. McQuistan, on the other hand, offers a solid, veteran option as the number two RT - and a substantial upgrade over Taylor Dever, who was waived to make room for him. As the Mothership's Nick Eatman, likely leaning on Broaddus' expertise, writes:
McQuistan should help this team in the preseason, an area the Cowboys wanted to improve. We've seen too many preseason games in the past where the offensive line couldn't even function long enough to give anyone around them a chance to succeed. With McQuistan and Parnell likely manning the second- and possibly third-team tackle spots, that should be good enough to evaluate everyone.
To my mind, such a move signifies contingency thinking: a deep awareness of what must be accomplished between now and the start of the season and, more importantly, the potential roadblocks to those accomplishments. This is the kind of thinking that was in short supply during the Wade Philips administration; Jason Garrett, on the other hand, seems to be The Man With The Plan. Instead of a sheaf of crumpled yellow legal sheets, his contingency list is probably on a iPad, and he's less a worrywort than a chess master. But, these quibbles aside, the RHG appears to have some Parcells in him. In a good way.