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Waiting on Garrett: The plan for calling the Cowboys offense is still a mystery - and that’s really OK

It is a riddle, wrapped in an enigma, inside a mystery. Or something.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Carolina Panthers
This territory is not as uncharted as you may think.
Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Should we be concerned about the lack of clarity over who will call the offensive plays for the Dallas Cowboys this season, and just how that will be done? It has been an entire week since Scott Linehan became the ex-offensive coordinator for the team. Jon Kitna has been hired with no official title announced. He is expected to become the new quarterbacks coach, while Kellen Moore will move up to be the new OC. Doug Nussmeier is in the mix with an expectation of larger, yet still undisclosed responsibilities. And after some early reports that Jason Garrett would take over play-calling, that seems to no longer be Plan A. But no one has yet handed out a wiring diagram showing how this will all work. There is a sense of disquiet in social media over the uncertainty.

Maybe we need to borrow a line from the old Cowboys killer himself, Aaron Rodgers, and R-E-L-A-X. It is a long time until Dallas plays a game that matters. Despite the assumption that a clearly defined organizational chart is required, teams with this level of change often take a while to figure it out.

If you want a historical precedent for not having the play-calling methodology fully delineated at the start of the season by the Cowboys, you have to go all the way back to . . . September 2018.

The offseason was filled with change everywhere on the coaching staff, except for the top levels as Garrett and Linehan remained despite turnover at four of the five position coaching levels. The one thing that changed for the OC was revealed on the opening possession of Sunday’s 16-8 loss, when Fox cameras panned to the coaching booth high atop the field and there sat Linehan.

Prior to the season, unbeknownst to the public, Linehan decided to become an eye in the sky while calling plays, taking the trip upstairs and leaving the confines of the sidelines where he was able to talk to his players and position coaches face to face.

And with this came another unexpected development, as Moore became a go-between for his OC and QB Dak Prescott. In Prescott’s own words:

“Kellen, I guess you call him the mediator at that point, when I come to the sideline. Me and him talk about what we saw and then he gets on the headset and he’s talking with Linehan. Then he’ll get back to me with what Linehan’s thinking with the plays and stuff that we’re working towards, so it’s been great.”

It seemed odd at the time to have a brand-new coach with no previous experience become the middleman in the OC-to-QB communications chain. Now, the expected scenario of Moore being the new OC and likely handling the play calls has not cut out the middleman - it has cut out the guy above and moved the middleman up the food chain.

That awkward-seeming arrangement now has had an unintended (perhaps) consequence of getting Moore much more involved in the game plan and play-calling last season. It also may have been a small part of the calculation that Moore is up for the job despite his callowness.

It will be interesting to see how Moore winds up handling the play calls as is expected. Will he remain on the sidelines or work from the booth? The addition of Kitna and the presence of Nussmeier makes either option more workable. Since both are quarterbacks, either could be the one upstairs, looking over the field and relaying what they see from the defense to Moore. Or Kitna could be the one face-to-face with Prescott on the sidelines while Moore views the big picture for himself.

This may be something the team will experiment with during the first couple of preseason games. And the aforementioned experience Moore gained being in the literal middle of things last year could make things go a bit faster than if he was completely new to the organization.

Meanwhile, Garrett’s stance of not talking about all this is not hard to understand. After all, he precipitated quite the furor when he spoke about Linehan’s future right after the Cowboys were bounced from the playoffs.

Fans and the media alike want answers, but in this case, the team itself does not seem to have come up with conclusive ones yet. And that is probably no real issue at all. They have months to sort it out, and hopefully get it right. This is, after all, a new mix of voices. As has been noted before, the OC role may incorporate a much more collaborative nature than existed with Linehan, with more input from both above and below than he allowed. That includes Prescott himself, who has clearly expressed a high comfort level with Moore.

This subject will not be closed until we see how things happen in those preseason games, and it may be the season opener before it is truly clear. What really matters is how the offense performs, however the roles and organization chart shake out. We may not like to wait. But we have to.

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