When Jerry Jones made Jason Garrett his head coach after the 2010 season, he gave him a four-year contract. After three .500 seasons, and myriad calls for Jones to fire him, the owner/GM of the Dallas Cowboys has decided to give his coach the full term of his contract to prove he is the man to lead the team to better days.
From a purely logical standpoint, it makes sense. Garrett has gotten the team close but has not been able to get over the hump. The team still seems to believe in him, and there have been a rash of injuries the past two seasons. There were also some coordinator moves that are suspected to have been more Jones' idea than the head coach's. Taking all that into account, and the size of the rebuilding job that Garrett faced (it has taken all three seasons so far to get the offensive line from bad to reasonably good), four years may have been the reasonable target for Garrett to turn things around. And given the supremely mediocre level of success so far, Jones has left his options open. If things do not work out this year, he will simply let Garrett's contract expire and try again.
But this is the Cowboys. There always has to be a bigger story for the team that is one of, if not the biggest, stage in the NFL. And a new storyline has emerged. Jason Garrett is now being called a lame duck.
But Jones doesn't believe having a coach in a lame duck status is a bad thing.
Instead of seeing this as Jones having patience and allowing a coach he is widely seen to have hired as an offensive coordinator who would one day take the head coaching job, it is seen as another way that the owner has taken power away from Garrett.
And it really isn't accurate. A lame duck, a term most commonly applied to the presidency of the US, is someone who is in their final term of office. They cannot be re-elected (or re-hired), and they have nothing to gain. Knowing this, the people who work with, or oppose, them tend to pay less and less attention to what they are trying to do and focus more on their own agendas.
Garrett has every chance of getting another contract after the 2014 season. He just has to get the Cowboys into the playoffs. If he does so, he will probably get another deal for at least two or three more years. If he wins a playoff game or two, he is almost certain to come back.
That is not a true lame duck. That is someone who has every reason to put his utmost effort into winning.
It is highly unlikely that his coaching staff is going to disregard what he wants to do, either, because they all know they are subject to losing their jobs if he goes. The new coach of the Houston Texans, Bill O'Brien, is currently clearing out the staff. The same is happening with Lovie Smith and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Mike Munchak was reportedly fired by the Tennessee Titans because he was unwilling to get rid of enough of his staff. The assistants with Dallas (those that survive to start the new season, anyway) will be just as motivated as Garrett to keep their jobs, or build a resume for another job elsewhere.
All indications are that the players are fully behind Garrett as well. There is nothing to gain for them in treating him as someone who will not be back. Their own success is inexorably linked to his. Undoubtedly they will be playing just as hard as they were in the last game of 2013, at least as long as the wheels don't come off the way they did at the end of Wade Phillip's tenure in Dallas.
The lame duck label is just another way to indirectly criticize Jones as a bad GM and fits in nicely with the Garrett-as-puppet meme already so popular with many. It ignores the business decision underlying it and provides yet another quick, negative label to use in talking about the Cowboys. While there are many things to critique about the team and its performance over the past three years, this one is mostly meaningless.
Don't expect it to go away, however, because it plays right into all the preconceptions so many have about the team. Negative sells when you are covering Dallas. Expect this term to show up for the next year, until Garrett's job is either lost or won on the field. It is the Cowboys, after all.