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Cowboys coaching staff in 2017: Failure or just the way the NFL is designed to be?

Step back from your blue and silver world and look around. There may be good reasons to not jump into wholesale coaching changes - yet.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Arizona Cardinals Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Monday is New Year’s Day (and here’s wishing each and every one of you the best in 2018). But it is also a key date in the NFL: Black Monday. That is the day after the end of the regular season, when many coaches also see their time with their current team come to an abrupt end.

There are expected to be eight to ten head coaching jobs available this year, according to Albert Breer in his summation of what to expect at the end of this season. And there are many, many fans of the Dallas Cowboys who are hoping to see Jason Garrett, Scott Linehan, and/or Rod Marinelli get their walking papers.

But it ain’t gonna happen, according to almost everyone. There are going to be some staff changes, but they are expected to be just in the assistant ranks.

Breer generally agrees in his article.

Jerry Jones has publicly proclaimed that Jason Garrett’s job is safe for 2018. He stopped short of giving the same assurance for Garrett’s assistants, and the list of those who won’t be examined closely next week is very short. I’m told plenty of assistant coaches have expiring contracts, which makes this an easy time for Dallas to overhaul the staff, if it so desires.

This is going to result in a lot of complaining and debate about the complacency of the Cowboys under Jones. Actually, it has already started. But as One Cool Customer pointed out in his recent post on the need for cooler heads to prevail:

At some point, you enter a permanent state of overreaction. In Cowboys Nation, that permanent state of overreaction has been in place for the last 20 seasons, only briefly alleviated by the occasional playoff appearance. Every perceived problem is magnified into an immediate crisis.

It is true that Dallas has fallen in recent years into an on-and-off pattern. They went to the playoffs in 2014 (Tony Romo’s last healthy season), slumped to 4-12 the next season when Romo was injured, stormed back into the postseason in 2016 with the spectacular rookie seasons of Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott, and then missed out by a more narrow margin this year when Prescott and Elliott had their various issues on or off the field. That’s just horrible, right?

Well, it may actually be better than the majority of NFL teams can manage. Remember that only 12 of the 32 teams even make the playoffs annually, so almost two-thirds of the league are disappointed every January. And there is a considerable amount of churn in the playoff field every year as well. This season is one of the more chaotic in that aspect. In the AFC, three teams are back from last year’s postseason bracket, the New England Patriots, the Pittsburgh Steelers, and the Kansas City Chiefs. In the NFC, there will be only one team to return from the 2016 postseason slate, either the Atlanta Falcons or the Seattle Seahawks, depending on the outcome of their games on Sunday.

For several years, there have really only been two teams that could really be called dominant in the entire league, the Patriots and the Steelers. And an argument can certainly be made that their regular trips to the playoffs are largely if not mostly due to the overall weakness of the AFC and the mediocrity surrounding them in their divisions. When you line up twice a year against the Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins, and New York Jets, as New England does, or face the woeful Cleveland Browns twice a year as well as the Cincinnati Bengals and Baltimore Ravens like Pittsburgh, it does give your chances of making the playoffs a bit of a boost.

The Cowboys, on the other hand, are in the NFC, where the teams have just been stronger overall in recent years than in the AFC. And they have to fight through the NFC East, where the top and bottom teams swap places regularly. After all, the Philadelphia Eagles went from worst to first this season - which is exactly what Dallas did a year ago. There hasn’t been a repeat division champion since 2003-2004 (Eagles), and all four teams in the division have been the NFC East champ at least once in the past six years.

And there is also this.

There is no question that there have been some egregious coaching errors for the Cowboys this season, such as the still-baffling decision to push Chaz Green as the left guard, and then once he lost that job, to sub him in for an injured Tyron Smith and give him no real help protecting Prescott. And that is just one of the big ones, right down to the insistence on passing inside the opponent’s five-yard line repeatedly in Elliott’s first game back from suspension.

There were a lot of other things going on this year, Elliott’s suspension and the surrounding legal case/running feud between Jerry Jones and Roger Goodell perhaps the biggest. Add in the cluster of injuries that coincided with Elliott sitting out his six games, and the picture is much more complex than just a bunch of coaching blunders.

Something that I have always wondered about was whether fans would take a deal where they were guaranteed to see the Cowboys make the playoffs every other year (assuming they would include deep runs at times)? That, after all, is what has happened since 2014. The coaching staff has been mostly stable during that time. It may be overdue for some shakeup, and perhaps Jones is a little too content with his head coach and coordinators (although no one ever mentions Rich Bisaccia, whose special teams were pretty special this year). Still, when a team goes out and hires a new head coach or coordinator, the odds are that they will be back in the market in three or so years. Sometimes less, as Ben McAdoo can attest.

Of course, there is also the fact that the most invulnerable general manager in the NFL is Jerry Jones, the only owner to serve as his own GM (along with a sizable amount of help from his son Stephen, particularly in cap management and personnel decisions). That eliminates one major way to shake an organization up that other teams can use. And Jones has clearly shown he is fond of continuity, particularly with Jason Garrett, who is far and away the best fit as far as working with his boss since Jones bought the Cowboys.

Given the pattern of the past four years, it makes perfect sense to give Garrett and his top lieutenants another chance to turn things around. There are some talented young players to work with, particularly in the offensive backfield, the secondary, and, at long last, along the defensive line. Yes, there are holes still to fill, particularly for depth almost everywhere. But that is a problem faced by every team in the league.

This isn’t to say you have to be happy with what the Cowboys appear to be planning for Black Monday. But it is pointing out that you will have to live with things, and see how it pans out in the 2018 season. If that gets Dallas back into the playoffs, and especially if they win a round or two, then no one will be talking about firing Garrett.

On the other hand, if the team has another puzzling struggle like 2017, things may change, and in a hurry. But that Black Monday is a year away. We have a lot of other things to worry about before then.