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Getting our heads around the Cowboys’ coaching changes

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Scott Linehan is gone. But what will really change for the Dallas offense?

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Divisional Round - Dallas Cowboys v Los Angeles Rams
Which way is the head coaching taking this team?
Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

The dust is still very much up in the air following the “amicable divorce” between the Dallas Cowboys and Scott Linehan. As this is written, we still don’t know who the offensive coordinator is (although Kellen Moore is assumed by many to be getting the job), Jon Kitna’s hire as the new QB coach is still not official (and would indicate Moore is getting some other position), and all we have about who is going to call plays are hints and speculation. It is a lot of uncertainty and ambiguity, which is about par for the course under Jerry Jones.

One thing that is certain is that Jason Garrett will continue as head coach this year. That is significant, since he will run the show. Just how much he will be involved in the offense is another thing that is uncertain, and Jones didn’t do anything to clear that up on Tuesday.

As for the offensive coordinator position, he did offer a pretty big hint.

That looks like an indication that Moore is indeed the heir apparent, but it also could mean that Doug Nussmeier is still in the running. Or it could also mean that Garrett could assume that job, with Moore and/or others in some kind of subordinate roles.

But will that change the offense this fall, or are we doomed to more Ezekiel Elliott runs into eight man boxes and predictable, easily defended play calls?

That was the question Bob Sturm asked in his eulogy for the Scott Linehan era in Dallas at The Athletic. Is Garrett committed to making real changes? The article is behind a paywall, so I will sum up its conclusions (any errors in interpreting Sturm are on me). If Garrett is willing to shift to an offensive approach more like that of high-flying teams like the Los Angeles Rams, with lots of motion and formations that disguise the intent, then this could be the key to future success. If not, we probably will be debating who the new head coach is going to be before too long.

Another question in all this is just what Jerry Jones, along with his son Stephen, is telling Garrett he is expected to do. Are they making a more pass-centric approach a requirement? Or are they just going to trust in Garrett to make things work his way?

It is pretty clear that this season is all on Garrett. Last year was on Linehan, who is perceived to have gotten his way in the 2018 shakeup of the coaching staff. He failed to deliver, and is gone. Now the buck is on Garrett’s desk. If the offensive woes continue, he cannot be retained.

Jerry Jones has talked about an extension for Garrett, but some, such as Bryan Broaddus of DallasCowboys.com, have advocated letting him coach out the final year of his current deal to hold his feet to the fire. Allow me to offer an objection to that. I am not sure that will really motivate Garrett particularly. He wants to win, no matter his perceived job security. After all, a coach’s contract just amounts to how much money he is paid if his employment is terminated. And Jones has money to burn, so extending Garrett has little effect on his longevity in Dallas.

Besides, Jones has stated that Garrett would get five job offers if he hit the market. In this case, that is not hyperbole. Garrett is the man who resurrected the franchise. He came into a dysfunctional franchise and established a culture while having a large hand in the building of what is now a young and talented roster. This was all while working with the most hands-on owner and general manager in the league. The other owners know who Jones is and what he is like to deal with. Any owner trying to turn his own team around would have to be interested in someone like Garrett who can accomplish what he has under those conditions. While there is certainly still some dysfunction at The Star, there is a demonstrable ability of the top management to mostly work together in harmony, all while Garrett has established a locker room that is fully on board with his goals and objectives.

Garrett might even be an attractive candidate to be a general manager, because his greatest strengths seem to be in organization and getting a bunch of big egos on a coaching staff to work together. It is arguable that Linehan’s biggest problem was that he was the one stubbornly fighting against the current on the Cowboys’ staff. I don’t know if Garrett would entertain that idea, since his heart and soul seem to be in coaching, but I don’t doubt he be a very good GM.

Another thing that has emerged from the coaching moves and rumors is that this is designed to make the most of Dak Prescott. It is notable that four of the coaches that will be involved in the offense, however the job titles and roles shake out, are former quarterbacks: Garrett, Moore, Nussmeier, and Kitna. Three of them played for Dallas. This looks like the team going all in to give Prescott all the support he can get to make him the quarterback to lead this team to the promised land.

That is something that may pay dividends no matter how Garrett chooses to change or stand pat on the offensive philosophy. Just getting Prescott to a higher level of performance could be enough to make the difference no matter how many failed runs are called in a game. The team has already taken steps to help him with the receivers he has to work with, as Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup look to be a potent one-two punch. Sort out the slot receiver position, add some more talent at tight end while continuing to develop Blake Jarwin and Dalton Schultz, and the offensive output may increase even if nothing really changes in the game plan and pay calling.

But put me down as one who thinks there will be changes. They may be fairly wholesale, or more incremental. This may be a bad assumption, but if there is one lesson that should have been learned from last year, it is that lining up your guys against their guys and beating them on the line despite showing them exactly what you intend is not the way to win. Just change that aspect, and things should get better - perhaps much better.

Maybe this shows too much faith in Garrett, but now the first big step has been taken, and we will soon see some other things clear up. We will at least know who has what title, and some idea of what their role is.

The one thing we will probably have to wait on is who will actually call the plays.

The offseason is sometimes a slow time for NFL fans, but so far, it has been pretty exciting for those of us who follow the Cowboys. More is definitely coming. We will be here to keep you up to date on it all.