The Dallas Cowboys and their fans were just spectators for the Super Bowl. But the time between the Cowboys season being over and now has hardly been dull. Some big changes have been made. Plus the roster has a lot of young talent coming back for the coming season.
We’ve been detailing all the developments here at BTB, and looking forward to free agency and the draft. Let’s check in on some reasons to optimistic about the upcoming season.
The return of Fredbeard
It feels like this has been pushed into the background with the coaching changes. The loss of Travis Frederick to Guillain-Barré syndrome had a huge impact on the team last season. While Joe Looney did a good job filling in, Frederick is an incredible talent at center. His loss affected the entire philosophy of a team built on dominating at the line of scrimmage. It was compounded by having rookie Connor Williams at left guard.
Currently, the expectation is that Frederick will be able to go for this season. Add in a full offseason program for Williams, and we will hopefully see a line more like it was in 2016. That in itself could be a real difference maker. We have to hope that there is no setback. Hjaving the Frederick of old back in place would make everything better.
Feeling good about the firm of Kellen and Kitna
Let’s throw in the entire offensive staff, including Doug Nussmeier, Marc Colombo, Sanjay Lal, and Gary Brown. There are still many who question the decision to promote Kellen Moore as the offensive coordinator. Chalk it up to being very convinced that Scott Linehan just had to go, but I am looking forward to just what Moore brings to the table. He comes from a college background that featured so many elements that we have been begging for the Cowboys to incorporate. Now we get to see just how well he can do in fixing the issues that plagued the Dallas offense.
The objections to Moore seem to center around his youth, only having one year of coaching experience, and that he was just not a very good quarterback at the pro level.
But it is interesting to consider the case of NFL coaching darling Sean McVay of the Los Angeles Rams, a man who never played in the pros, and who was named offensive coordinator in Washington ten days before his 28th birthday. He had a total of five years coaching in the NFL before that, it is true. But based on what has been reported about Moore, his six years as a backup quarterback gave him a lot of exposure to what goes together in creating an offensive scheme, game-planning, and calling plays. He always stood out for his football intelligence. Besides, when has a really successful NFL QB turned into a great coach? Having to work so hard just to stay on a roster despite some obvious shortcomings as a player probably was more help to Moore than we realize.
It obviously is impossible to say that Moore will be even close to McVay in his abilities as a coordinator. But it is also wrong to hold his lack of experience against him. There is a trend to young, open-minded coaches with experience in innovative college systems. Moore fully fits that bill.
And now he has Kitna on his staff. Another criticism of Moore was that he was not seen to have done much for the development of Dak Prescott. That may have been because Moore was more oriented towards the installation of the game plan, not coaching up his QB. Kitna seems to be much more that teaching/developing kind of individual, with his high school coaching background. His strengths seem to be exactly where Moore seems weakest. It is a good combination where one complements the other.
What about the stubbornness?
One of the biggest complaints about Linehan was that he was too stubborn to adapt. He clung to the same things that worked when he had one of the most dominant offensive lines in the league, allowing the Cowboys to line up and dare the defense to stop them. That didn’t work with the degraded personnel he had last season. Yet still he would send out a jumbo package, and send Ezekiel Elliott into the teeth of a loaded box, especially down close to the end zone. Too many times it failed, yet we kept seeing it, including in the playoffs against the Rams.
The big question now is whether that was really Linehan, or was that also coming from Jason Garrett? Just how open the head coach is to change in the offense may be the biggest deciding factor in how successful everything is.
Garrett, of course, is in a contract year
And all reports are that there will not be an extension. This may be a good thing, because the last time he coached out the final year of his deal was 2014, and had it not been for a playoff game with an untimely fumble, a catch that wasn’t except it really was, and Aaron Freaking Rodgers, that would have changed the postseason narrative a lot. Now, his back is up against the wall.
Those are the situations when Garrett rises to the occasion. 2014, losing his starting quarterback in 2016, and the run to make the playoffs last season all were cases where he was under extreme pressure and rallied the team to make the postseason.
Looking at it from the standpoint of Jerry and Stephen Jones, it would appear that they like the changes that have been made - but aren’t going to buy completely into them until they see them work on the field. And frankly, they have a ready made solution if things do not go well and they feel it is time to move on from their head coach. That is Kris Richard, who many have tagged as a future head coach. If Garrett moves on, they could promote him with the understanding that the offensive staff remains largely intact. He is, of course, a defensive coach, and would have worked with the offensive staff for a year at that point. Add in that he will have worked for the Jones family for two years by then, and he is far less likely to want to bring in his own offensive people to supplant Kellen and Kitna.
Of course, there might also be a shot a Sean Payton by that point. However, he also has a long history with the Joneses, so he might be willing to keep much of the staff intact as well.
In any case, it makes a lot of sense to not extend Garrett at this point. If he finally breaks through to the conference championship game, then he will have earned an extension and the lucrative contract. If not, Dallas is in good shape to move on.
Youth is good
Just as the coaching staff has a lot of younger faces (to go along with the vast experience of Rod Marinelli and Hudson Houck), the roster is one of the youngest in the league. And the NFL is a young man’s game now. The current structure of the salary cap makes it necessary to have a lot of your team on those first contracts. It certainly helps when those young guys are also pretty good, and the Cowboys have a lot of very talented young players.
There is a good window for them to have success, but those windows are not long-lived. That fits right in with Garrett being in a make-or-break year. He needs to get the most out of this bunch now to save his job. Motivating his players is one of his real strengths, and the young guys certainly have responded to him.
There are plenty of reasons to feel optimistic about 2019, and a sense of anticipation about seeing how this all plays out. It may not work the way we hope - but it will be an interesting ride.