One thing that readers here don't often get to see are the discussions the FPWs have when they sit down at the virtual Blogging The Boys conference table and discuss the team. Our e-mail discussions are often lively, and sometimes we have a lot more disagreement than you probably realize.
Archie Barberio and I got to talking about some of those topics. After I wrote my piece about who would most benefit from the next Super Bowl championship, we found we had a bit of a difference of opinion about how shaky Jason Garrett's future in Dallas is. We decided to turn that into a post to let you join in the discussion.
Archie: The pressure always seem to be on in Dallas, but there needs to be some better results this year. What it comes down to is there are three people in the organization who face the most pressure to succeed. They are the head coach, quarterback and owner. Jason Garrett, Tony Romo and Jerry Jones all have their critics and detractors, but one of those men has to start producing wins and deliver more success.
First off, Tony Romo isn't going anywhere. His new six-year contract extension was a necessary move by the organization. The Cowboys can't afford to start over taking risk by finding a quarterback who is more talented than Romo. If it were that easy to find someone to replace their current quarterback and give them better results, then Dallas would've done it already. The new contract keeps Romo in Dallas for the foreseeable future, but he is also the best option they have. Until the opportunity presents itself to make a change at quarterback, then Romo still has time to deliver.
As for Jerry Jones, he is the owner and general manager. He makes the decisions and he answers to nobody but himself. To think his job or status is in jeopardy may be truly thinking outside of the box.
Where the pressure really lies this season is with the head coach. Garrett enters his third full season and his results haven't been very promising. Don't get me wrong, he took on this job with a difficult task at hand. In my opinion, Wade Phillips basically ran this team into the ground. He may not have forced the team into the bad contracts and personnel decisions, but he did let a bad culture develop within the organization and locker room.
Tom: Archie mentions a crucial point. By the end of the Wade Phillips era, the Cowboys were a directionless, muddled mess, with a few key established stars and far too few rising ones. Although the 2010 draft was a good start to righting the ship, that nightmare knows as the 2009 draft, which would more accurately be called "How to collect a ton of picks and basically waste all of them", left a gaping hole in talent that most crucially affected the depth of the Cowboys. It was oil-slick thin, and led directly to some of the issues when injuries started creeping in.
Garrett has come in and firmly established a culture. All the criticism and snide remarks about him being a powerless puppet for Jerry Jones are highly inaccurate. Garrett may not have the unbridled control over the team that Bill Belichick has (and which recently seems to be a little less effective than many once thought), but he also has a very active and involved GM. Just because the GM makes some decisions about the team (which he also owns) and how it is run does not mean Garrett has been kneecapped. That is a GM's job. Look at the team now and the way it was under Phillips, and the difference is blatantly obvious to even the most casual observer. I don't think Jerry Jones is in any hurry to lose something that looks to be getting to the point it is going to start paying dividends.
Archie: In his professional coaching career, Garrett's record stands at 21-19 and has coached the Cowboys to consecutive 8-8 seasons. I am a firm believer in a five-year plan for a head coach. Let him organize and construct his type of team and allow him to bring in the personnel he prefers. But at some point within those five years, there needs to be some positive steps and results.
During the course of his coaching career, Garrett has lost some close games due to a lack of inexperience and time management issues. This season, he must begin to show the rest of the NFL that he can overcome those past deficiencies and make important coaching decisions that can positively impact the game. Taking a step back from running the offense should in theory help him run the team as a "walk around" head coach. Running the team in a broader scope does seem to be right up his alley.
Tom: Here is one thing that keeps getting lost in all this: How many NFL head coaches manage a .500 record their first two seasons? There are a lot that don't even come close. Yes, the team did fade somewhat late in both of Garrett's first two seasons, but last year that was largely due to the accumulation of injuries. Just look at the players that started the last game, and don't forget that DeMarcus Ware really only had one arm he could use, and that Tony Romo was reported to have broken a rib during the game. Besides, there are some indications that Rob Ryan might have seen the handwriting on the wall and was disengaging a bit, or at least was growing frustrated and not making the best decisions.
Garrett only needs a couple more wins to likely make the playoffs this year. And I can't see how the team could have done a much better job of addressing the issues the Cowboys had during the offseason. The coaching changes, the playcalling decision, the draft, the move to the 12 formation - all were effective. Some were not perfect (the way the draft was handled, the optics on giving Callahan the playsheet), but the overall approach was coherent and directed to solving real issues. There were some limitations the team faced, such as the last half of the cap penalty this year and being in an awkward draft position given the needs the team had, but for the most part they were handled well, if a little short of perfectly. And things seem to be going very smoothly with the team.
Archie: We all know that Jerry Jones is impatient. Currently he believes that Garrett is the right man to coach his football team, but at some point Jones is going to want some positive results. Jerry likes to listen to his "outside advisers", and if he feels that Garrett isn't making progress in 2013, it would not be surprising to see him go out and make a change for the 2014 season.
Garrett doesn't have to win the Super Bowl to keep him in Dallas, but he needs to take the next step in his coaching career. Win some of the close games, continue developing a strong culture and get this team over the 8-8 hump. If he can do that, then he will live out his five-year plan as the head coach of America's Team.
Tom: I think Jerry Jones used to be impatient, but I think he is much less so now. Whether it is the influence of Stephen Jones, or his own realization that the old ways haven't worked well for almost two decades, I think he is more willing to wait this out longer than most people think.
One key thing that I think I saw in 2012 was a team that never gave up. And they were in most of the games lost until very late. I think Jerry Jones feels the same way. I used to believe that this was the make or break year for Garrett, but I don't anymore. I think it would take a major meltdown, like double digit losses, for Jerry Jones to seriously consider firing Garrett this season, and then only after considering what happened. (Superstition prevents me mentioning ways the team could falter and Garrett would clearly be seen as not really responsible, but they exist.) While nothing is certain in the job of an NFL head coach, I think Garrett is very, very unlikely to not be with the Cowboys in 2014.
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