This is always a dead time of the year when you cover the NFL. Free agency and the draft are over, and except for the OTAs and minicamps, there will be little of interest to report until training camp. It leaves those of us who have pro football as a year-round fascination having to seek sustenance for our fanhood from distasteful stories about deflated footballs, accusations that a franchise that has been proven to have cheated in the past has cheated again, and lawsuits filed by a players' union that may be as much about getting all in the face of a disliked and distrusted commissioner as much as taking care of its members. It's either that or slog through made-up stories like a ranking of all the NFL uniforms (which is obviously bogus since it doesn't have the Star in first place).
The Dallas Cowboys are not immune to these news doldrums. Things are just going quietly along with only a slight bit of controversy surrounding a few players with off-the-field issues, and absolutely nothing at all concerning the management or coaching staff.
Which, when you think about it, seems kind of weird. It is quite a change of pace from the earlier years of the Jason Garrett era.
The media has literally lost a good chunk of the offseason topics that have been a mainstay of Cowboys coverage for quite some time. The annual rationales for why Jason Garrett is roasting on the hot seat and just about guaranteed to finally get fired for blatant inexperience and rampant incompetence are missing. Descriptions of his puppet-like dancing to Jerry Jones' tune are nowhere to be seen. Nary a trace exists of stories about power struggles over who is calling plays. It seems that there is great truth in the old cliche that winning fixes everything.
Arguably, those stories existed in the same realm as the Dez Bryant Walmart video, namely the minds of reporters and analysts who crafted them more from a fervent desire to find dysfunction at Valley Ranch than any real evidence. The only real underpinnings were the string of 8-8 seasons and a belief in the impatience of the owner and general manager. With an NFC East crown in 2014 and grudging admission at last by some if not all of the reporters that Jerry Jones, along with his son Stephen, have a much longer viewpoint than was thought, those annual diatribes have vanished like morning mists in the heat of the rising sun. Garrett has a new contract and even the most obtuse can no longer argue that he is not firmly in charge of both the team and the culture in Dallas.
However, another storyline that was all too real has also gone away. The past two offseasons have been marked by turmoil on the coaching staff. In 2013, it was the dismissal of Rob Ryan as defensive coordinator and the hiring of near-legend Monte Kiffin to go back to the 4-3 base defense, followed quickly by the addition of Rod Marinelli to help him out. There was also the designation of Bill Callahan as the offensive coordinator, which does seem to have a real basis in a desire by the front office to push Garrett into more of a "walk-around" role. Neither of those moves worked out nearly as well as had been hoped, and 2014 saw another shakeup, with the aging Kiffin literally kicked upstairs so Marinelli could be promoted to defensive coordinator and Scott Linehan brought in as the new de facto offensive coordinator and play-caller. Those moves were far more rewarding for the team, particularly when Linehan proved he could use a smashmouth, run-first approach to great effect. Having a talent-loaded offensive line, a healthy Tony Romo, and a career performance from DeMarco Murray certainly didn't hurt. Following the success of the season, both Kiffin and Callahan were recognized as superfluous and left the team. Other than that, the staff remains intact and key pieces like Linehan and Marinelli have also been signed to new deals to make sure it stays that way.
Outside the coaching staff, there is also continuity. The general manger is a given, since owner Jerry Jones retains that title even as he continues to cede more and more of the day-to-day operations to Stephen. And Will McClay has become the vital third leg of the front office triad. This stability played a major role in the superb haul of talent in the draft and ensuing UDFA market, as Dallas pulled the incredible coup of getting three first-round talents in Byron Jones, Randy Gregory and La'el Collins. What was a break from the past was that no major trades were involved, only patience and faith in their own draft board, plus a good bit of luck for the team as outside circumstances pushed Gregory down to the 60th pick and Collins was sadly caught up in a tragedy in which he played no real role. But both seem absolutely delighted to be in Dallas, just as the team and fan base are extremely excited to see what they bring to the field.
It is dull and at times challenging for those of us who strive to put content up daily for your consumption. But the hope it engenders for continued excellence for the Star far outweighs that minor inconvenience. It is odd to think of a septuagenarian maturing, but to a great extent that is what we have seen happen with Jerry Jones, who was always tremendous in his role as owner and income generator, but who had to learn how to be an effective GM. Increased delegation is a large part of that maturation. It is also impossible to overstate the role Garrett has played in that, since the overall vision and strategy of the team have his fingerprints all over them.
There is still a season to get to, with many chances for missteps and misfortune along the way, but it is inspiring a modicum of optimism for many of us. We have to find out how this all translates now that the Cowboys have a target on their back, having returned to the top tier of NFL teams where the laws of man and nature dictate they should be. But just speaking for myself, hunting for new content because things are motoring smoothly along at Valley Ranch beats debunking stories about hot seats and puppetry any day of the week. And twice on game day.