While it is easy to look at the Dallas Cowboys and say "they are a .500 team, it is time to blow it up and start over", that is not necessarily the best answer. More fitting would be to make a serious assessment of what works and what does not, and once that is done, then get to work on rectifying the bad while maintaining the positives. That is what I am going to attempt to do.
To get things started, let's look at what is working well. With no playoff appearances during Jason Garrett' head coaching era, it is tempting to assume that little has been accomplished, but that is far from the truth. The successes have just been concealed by the failures.
The offensive line is in much better shape than it was at the beginning of Garrett's tenure. There were growing pains along the way but things are pointing in the proper direction. An aging group has been replaced with younger talent whose best days are still ahead of them. Twice in three seasons the Dallas Cowboys have used a first-round pick to draft an offensive lineman. Both Tyron Smith and Travis Frederick have the capability to be cornerstones of a top notch group for the next decade. In addition to the on-field talent, the Dallas front office has also invested in the men who can develop the players to their fullest. Bill Callahan, regardless of what you think of his skills as an offensive coordinator, and Frank Pollack, are steadily bringing together a group that can impact the game.
In addition to bolstering the offensive line, Dallas is seeming to focus on creating depth at the skill positions on offense. There is an effort to provide the quarterback with an assortment of weapons for his arsenal. It wasn't that long ago that Dallas seemingly only had Tony Romo to Miles Austin and Tony Romo to Jason Witten as options. Now Romo has threats including Dez Bryant and Terrance Williams on the outside, a developing slot-guy guy in Cole Beasley, and a young tight end in Gavin Escobar that they feel will develop into a threat. This is in addition to Witten (and at least for now Miles Austin). They also have, for the first time in recent memory, a back who is capable of a thousand yard season. The next step is learning how to use the talent they have in an effective manner, but more on that later.
On defense the team has brought in some talent as well. Due to some injuries and a change of scheme, we have not seen the impact that was expected, but the effort was there. Based on what we knew at the time, drafting Mo Claiborne and signing Brandon Carr were good moves. Of course, with the scheme change, they are no longer ideal fits, but they did fit what Dallas was doing at the time. With Rod Marinelli's renown ability to teach his concepts, there is a decent chance that the players on hand can adapt to their new responsibilities. Also Sean Lee and Bruce Carter were calculated risks whose success has been impacted by injury, and in Carter's case the scheme change as well. In addition to Marinelli addressing the issue of roles, there are behind-the-scenes efforts at improving team health. This too will be addressed in the next section.
On the negative side we have seen plenty of blunders. To gloss those over would be to ignore reality. We have to take both the good and bad.
Game management has been an issue. While the Bill Callihan experiment was not successful, and perhaps even made the situation worse, Dallas has not denied the problem. Scott Linehan has been brought in to manage the offensive game for Garrett. On the other side of the ball, Rod Marinelli has taken the reigns of the defense. Both men have recently experienced some success in professional football and there is reason to hope they can continue to do so. Hopefully, the move will allow Jason Garrett to finally focus on one thing, managing the game, and to free himself from extra duties.
Another failure is the inability to remain healthy. Mike Woicik, with his six Super Bowl rings, was supposed to be the answer but that has not proven to be the case. For whatever reason, things are not working. We know that Dallas is mixing some things up and focusing on some new techniques to help prevent soft tissue injuries. They seem to be looking at some of the things that worked for Chip Kelley at both Oregon and in Philadelphia. While previous attempts at injury prevention have failed, there is reason, and scientific evidence, to believe that the new approach will have an impact.
On the business side of the house, the team is still suffering the effects of some ill-advised moves, especially the tendency to overpay for aging talent. Here too, there are positive signs. Things like high cap hits and dead money slowly seem to be receding. Time is the biggest ally the Cowboys have for dealing with this, along with an escalating cap. Recent contracts like the one signed by Sean Lee seem to indicate a more reasonable approach toward fiscal matters as do the situations with DeMarcus Ware and Jason Hatcher. There is no quick fix here, but there appears to be a start being made. That is all we can ask for in this situation.
Finally, there seems to be some moves being made to improve the way the team runs its war room. Will McClay, who knows the game from both the coaching and scouting perspectives, has been promoted to a position where he can moderate between what the coaches want and how the scouts evaluate prospects. This should prevent blunders like last season's confusion over Sharrif Floyd. No longer should the team have guys who do not fit the profile the coaches want being listed high on the team's board simply because the scouts like his game. Someone is now accountable for reconciling the views of both sides.
While things are far from perfect in Dallas, some things are working well, and efforts are being made to improve those that are not. Will it pay off? That is the big question; likely some moves will and some won't. The good news is that efforts are being made to learn from mistakes. It is a cliche around BTB and the Cowboys in general, but it is a process. As long as the team objectively self-evaluates and uses the results of the evaluation to improve, things will get better. It will not happen overnight, but it will happen. As fans it will take longer than we want, but as long as the Jones family is willing to stay the course, results should follow. It all depends on them.