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The looming free agency of Jason Garrett

It’s not your usual way for a coach to go on the market.

Dallas Cowboys v Philadelphia Eagles
This may not be bad for him at all.
Photo by Corey Perrine/Getty Images

Jason Garrett is not being fired as the head coach of the Dallas Cowboys. There’s no need to. At some point between roughly 7:30 pm eastern time today and the end of the Super Bowl, his contract with the team will expire. At that moment, Garrett essentially becomes a free agent. Unlike with players, he and his agent can immediately start talking with teams about his next job. (Technically, according to Ian Rapoport, the contract would not really expire until at least three days have passed after the end of the season or January 14th, whichever is later, but neither side would have anything to gain from sticking to that, so effectively Garrett is out of a job as soon as the Cowboys lose their next game, or the Philadelphia Eagles win theirs.)

There is a possibility that he could return to the Star. For a large segment of the fan base, that would be a bit of a worst case scenario, because he is seen as the underlying reason for so many of the issues the Cowboys have struggled with. Even if that highly unlikely miracle run happened to make him appear the right choice to Jerry Jones, there are quite a few who would still despair at the prospect of more years of the same.

You probably shouldn’t worry too much about that. In not extending Garrett before the season, Jones set up a rare situation. As noted by Albert Breer in his look at the coaching carousel last week, most teams never let their head coach get to the contract year. It is really all about power and control. When the coach is on a contract, it is pretty much all up to the team. They can negotiate an extension exclusively. If things don’t work out, they can fire the coach at any time. For billionaire owners, the fact they usually have to pay out the value of the entire contract is not an issue. For the coach, on the other hand, that guaranteed salary is quite an incentive to take a new deal and stick around, even if there are some issues with the current situation. That was more or less how it played out for Mike McCarthy, who signed a one year extension with the Green Bay Packers in 2018 for the next season, only to be fired at the end of the year. When he wasn’t able to find a new job with the first few interviews, that salary Green Bay had to pay him allowed him to just sit things out and do some work on improving his value to another team. It’s just one of the advantages of having real contracts with no funny-money involved the way players do under the CBA.

Garrett, on the other hand, just cleans out his desk and walks free. Jones can always try to open a discussion about a new contract. But Garrett would have to be a very stupid man to start talking seriously about that without testing the market first.

He is not stupid. Quite the opposite.

It may come as a bit of a surprise to many, but Garrett may actually be able to generate a bit of a bidding war for his services. The perception of him within the offices of NFL teams is rather different than among fans. Multiple reputable people in the media have spoken about how well respected he is. The fact that he has survived nine and a half years under Jones may be a factor. There are several vacancies coming up - two are already open with the in-season firings of Jay Gruden and Ron Rivera - and some could be places where Garrett might fit very well.

Where, you ask? Allow me to ‘splain.

Back to the Cowboys

Yeah, I said he should entertain other offers. But if, say, that miracle run happens and Jones really, really wants him back, money talks. Few can money-whip a staff like Jerry Jones. Few are as willing, either.

Now, I will caveat this with saying it will probably take a lot of money after the way this year has played out. Not getting extended before the season sent a message or two. Garrett probably wasn’t all that thrilled with the situation. The idea of a new challenge and perhaps a more favorable environment than the always hypercritical Dallas media may be too alluring to pass up. There is always the chance to negotiate some things he might like. Minor stuff, like complete control over who he brings in as his coaching staff.

Still, he has a nice home in Dallas and certainly knows the organization. If his conservatism extends to his career choices, a return to try and prove the critics wrong might be attractive.

If, however, Jones even wants to talk. If the season ends with the Washington game, which is probably the most likely outcome at this point, then it all probably is moot.

Carolina Panthers

Again, according to Breer, it looks like the Panthers are doing a full and open search for Rivera’s replacement. That would put Garrett squarely in the due diligence category.

If he goes in for at least a preliminary interview - and there is absolutely no reason he should not - then it all depends on the dance. If both sides see something they like, it can become a sales job for one or both. The Panthers might be a good fit. They have an aging but still dynamic Cam Newton at quarterback, with some real injury issues that requires a succession plan, and a dynamic running back in Christian McCaffrey. Those seem like situations that Garrett has a passing familiarity with.

Their coaching styles might be different, but the characters of Garrett and Rivera seem similar. Whether Carolina wants radical change or prefers some familiarity might be a factor.

Cleveland Browns

For the Panthers, Garrett would be a bit of checking the right boxes in the coaching search. For the Browns, he ought to be at the top of their list.

While there are plenty of reasons to criticize him, he also has some clear strengths. One of the greatest is his ability to bring order to a chaotic situation. That was what got him the job in Dallas originally as he got a team that had imploded on Wade Phillips playing much, much better. If there is anything Cleveland needs, it is someone who can try to tame the complete mess they continue to be. They certainly have some talent on the roster after all those years of high draft picks. Garrett also might be exactly what Baker Mayfield needs.

However, they also are not exactly the most attractive job in the NFL. They are the Browns, the very exemplar of a dysfunctional franchise. Straightening them out will be a near-Herculean task, and may well fail no matter how good the effort. Then there is the matter of just how much support and trust can be expected. After all, this is the team that gave up on that obvious loser, Bill Belichick.


Dan Snyder has had years to watch Garrett up close. Dan Snyder wants his team to return to relevance. Dan Snyder is hardly adverse to creating the stir in the media hiring Garrett would bring.

And Dan Snyder wants to be Jerry Jones.

Hiring a head coach just to stick it to a rival owner is hardly a rational way to go about business in the NFL. But if there is any owner who would do exactly that, it is Snyder.

Meanwhile, there are some positives that might influence Garrett. It’s a major market, so his Dallas experience would serve him well. There is a young quarterback, Dwayne Haskins, to build around. He’s probably better equipped for dealing with Snyder than just about any other candidate out there. Plus, the strengths he could bring to Cleveland as an organizer and culture-builder are just as badly needed in Washington.

If you think about it, Washington could be a very good fit for Garrett. There’s only one other team that would be better.

New York Giants

As the rumors about Pat Shurmur being on the chopping block began to spread, Garrett was immediately linked to the vacancy. It makes a lot of sense.

He spent his last season as a player with the Giants, and that connection to an organization seems to be something he likes. Like with Washington, there is a young quarterback in Daniel Jones to groom and develop. There is also a real stud of a running back in Saquon Barkley, and we know how Garrett salivates over those. Like Washington, it would keep him in the NFC East, which brings something interesting to consider. Garrett has been very successful against the division throughout his time in Dallas. He just seems to do better against teams he knows.

Then there’s the petty factor. You know he would revel in beating his old team.

As for the reasons the Giants might want to make an offer, well, all of the ones favorable to Garrett listed above should also pique their interest. They know that Garrett won’t wilt under the only environment that may exceed Dallas in terms of constant scrutiny and harsh judgment.

John Mara might be just a wee bit petty himself as well.

So those are the head coaching jobs that appear to be the most likely landing spots for Garrett. Of course, there are a lot of candidates getting buzz. He might not get a HC job this year. I think he will still be working in the NFL, but maybe it won’t be on the sidelines at all.

Moving up to a general manager position

Remember all that stuff about bringing some order to a chaotic organization? It is possible that Garrett could do that even more effectively if he took a step up the food chain and became a general manager somewhere.

Where? Well, just about the same places. Many believe that Jerry Jones would greatly help his own team by hiring a real GM and taking a step back. It’s not going to happen, but it would be a positive move.

Cleveland and Washington desperately need some adult leadership and are at least considering a new GM to go with a new head coach. And the Giants are now reportedly considering moving on from Dave Gettleman, again according to Breer.

Some large questions would have to be answered, of course. The first is whether Garrett would be at all open to the idea. He truly seems to love coaching, and a team would have to be willing to take a shot on the transition.

Still, there are times that Garrett just seems more suited to the GM role, with his calm detachment and process-oriented philosophy. For a team with a really difficult owner like Snyder, he might be most valuable spending more time as a buffer between owner and coaches.

In any case, he hits the market shortly. After years on the hot seat, we will soon find out how hot a commodity he is.

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