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We Haven’t Even Gotten To The NFL Draft, But The Cowboys Dissing Is In Full Swing

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Whether it’s from major network writers, blog sites, or just random fans, many seem ready to dismiss Dallas’ last season as a fluke, and give no credit to those who were instrumental in the 13-3 record.

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Dallas Cowboys
Wasn’t this going on just last season?
Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

It is not uncommon for fan bases to feel like their favorite team just doesn’t get any respect. That is certainly true for those of us who follow the Dallas Cowboys. Most of the time, you really just have to write it off as a bit of homerism and the natural defensiveness that comes when you see the team you are so invested in getting criticized.

But over the past few weeks, some things have shown up out there in the interwebs that certainly make it seem that the Cowboys are getting absolutely disrespected. It just isn’t the lack of regard exhibited. It is how recent accomplishments - as in from last season - are completely dismissed.

If it was just one or two isolated things, that would be one thing. But there is a pattern here that all seems to come back to one conclusion: A lot of people think last year was purely a fluke for the Cowboys, and will basically be nearly impossible for them to duplicate.

The most recent bit of evidence is also the most egregious: Pete Prisco’s ranking of all 32 NFL head coaches for CBS Sports. He ranked Jason Garrett at 17th in the league, with this write up.

Garrett has a .558 career winning percentage and led the Cowboys to a 12-4 record and a division title last season. He has had only one losing season in seven as Cowboys coach, including his interim stint in 2010. He is 29-19 the past three seasons and overcame the loss of quarterback Tony Romo in training camp last season to make the playoffs with rookie Dak Prescott. That was impressive. Early in his Cowboys career, he was criticized for game management and play-calling, but he has improved those areas the past few seasons.

Other than getting the record for last year wrong, it is not horribly erroneous as far as simple facts go. And, to be honest, it is not the first coaches ranking this offseason that put Garrett rather low. Patrick Daugherty at Rotoworld did his own ranking back at the beginning of March, and put Garrett in the twelfth spot.

College football writer Spencer Hall once made the case for “not changing a damn thing” at coach. Hall argued that, with some Charlie Weis exceptions, most coaches are held to impossible standards, and discarded too quickly. NFLers like Gus Bradley and Joe Philbin beg to differ, but the Cowboys obliged. They didn’t change a damn thing at coach, keeping Jason Garrett after a 29-27 start to his career. Their reward has been one of the NFL’s clearest identities — control the ball on offense, bend, but don’t break, on defense — and two 12-win seasons in the past three years, with two different quarterbacks, no less. Owner Jerry Jones has found his desperately-sought return to relevance in the most surprising of places: Patience. Garrett is not a future Bill Belichick, or even Andy Reid. Given enough chances to implement his formula, he just might be the man to bring the Lombardi back to Dallas.

OK, again, not fulsome praise, but not completely off base. So what is wrong about these, other than a disagreement with the rankings?

Jason Garrett, you may recall, was named the 2016 NFL Head Coach of the Year.

See the disconnect? How does he go from the best job of all 32 head coaches (including the god of all gods in any NFL job, Bill Belichick) to somewhere in the middle of the pack in a matter of weeks, especially when he has basically done nothing but make inputs to the draft process. It certainly appears that Prisco and Daugherty both saw last season as just some kind of a fluke, or not really having anything to do with Garrett’s coaching.

Which makes no sense. There is no team in the NFL that takes its tone and direction more obviously from its head coach than Dallas. After a few weeks with the team, almost every player begins spouting “Garrettisms” in answer to questions. And it isn’t just lip service, either. There seems a real commitment on the part of the players to following the now-infamous “process”, taking it all one practice, one day, one game at a time, while seeking to always get better and above all, putting the team first.

And nothing illustrated this better than the entire Dak Prescott/Tony Romo saga. To first keep the team motivated after Romo was hurt, then to work with Prescott on a daily, one-on-one basis, then to keep the team from fracturing when the tough decision was made to move on from the veteran - do you really think most other teams would have gotten through that season with the success Dallas did? Or made the change at quarterback without a real controversy?

That has to be largely due to Garrett’s steadying influence. A lot of jokes have been made about his repetitious, robotic behavior (which exists only in front of the media), but that does reflect the approach of keeping things calm while not changing the whole approach due to adversity that are so foundational for Garrett.

But this is not just about Garrett being given short shrift. In another article at Rotoworld, Daugherty also ranks the general managers in the league, and has the combination of Jerry and Stephen Jones ranked tenth.

Typically, you don’t chase off Jimmy Johnson and Bill Parcells and live to tell about it. That’s especially true if you’re an oilman who has convinced yourself you’re a personnel director. And yet, here we are, with Jerry Jones enjoying a late-career renaissance that was, frankly, impossible to see coming. Tired of strong-willed future Hall-of-Famers, Jones installed lemonade salesman Jason Garrett at head coach. Instead of failing miserably, the seeming marriage of convenience has gradually grown stronger, organically producing an identity in the process. Spend big on assistant coaches. Draft hog mollies. Run the ball. Bend but don’t break on defense. The result has been two 12-win seasons in three years, the second of which came with a fourth-round rookie at quarterback. Maybe it’s luck. Maybe it’s supernatural. Whatever it is, it’s working, and after two decades of deserved criticism ol’ Jer has earned some plaudits.

At least Daugherty gets some credit for understanding that Stephen is as much the GM of the team as his father, but this still shows a clear disregard for what has accomplished recently. The Cowboys have done very well in the draft for the past several years, while avoiding costly free agency mistakes. It would be difficult to point to nine other teams in the league that have done better building their roster than the Cowboys have in the same period. Or retaining key talent. The fact is there simply aren’t nine GMs that can justifiably be put ahead of the Joneses on this list - yet there you are.

The write up just above shows the attitude that this cannot be due to the merits of the people involved. “Maybe it’s luck. Maybe it’s supernatural.” Well, how about maybe Jerry Jones, Jason Garrett, Stephen Jones, and Will McClay have worked really hard and figured things out?

This is not limited to the staff, either. There is a level of doubt about the players who were most responsible for the surprising season last year.

There are more, but you get the idea. The rookie years for Ezekiel Elliott and especially Dak Prescott were just flash-in-the-pan things. Everyone will have video on them and be able to stymie the Cowboys’ attack, while the defense will be no better, and probably worse.

Yet, consider what Albert Breer wrote for Sports Illustrated’s MMQB when he was talking about those other well-known rookies from last season, Jared Goff, Carson Wentz, and Paxton Lynch:

But we’ll start with the 2016 first-round quarterbacks, and what many coaches believe is the most critical offseason of any player’s career—the one between rookie year and Year 2, when growth should be at its most rapid.

Everybody is supposed to get better between their first and second seasons - except Dak and Zeke, apparently.

The Cowboys certainly aren’t going to be sneaking up on anyone this year. But by about week six last year, any team that wasn’t taking them seriously had only themselves to blame.

One thing that really is remarkable is the doubt that Dallas can have any sustained success, when the entire approach the team takes is built for sustainability. Acquiring talent primarily through the draft, valuing youth, locking up key talent on long term but ultimately more affordable contracts - it is all about the long view. The team deliberately eschews the quick fix in favor of a long term strategy.

And all of that goes back to the head coach and the GM (or GMs). Add it all together, and it just looks like a clear case of bias. After the stunning year the Cowboys had despite some one very severe bit of adversity, there is a lot of doubt outside of Dallas that they can carry things over into 2017 (and there are probably a few in Cowboys media that feel the same way).

For almost any other team, this would be a season of optimism, for the very reasons mentioned above. In almost any other NFL city, the head coach and GM would be having praise heaped on them.

But this is Dallas. And no one will believe much of anything good - until it is forced on them.