The author of “America’s Team: The Official History of the Dallas Cowboys,” Jeff also writes a new column each week in Dallas Cowboys Star Magazine. For subscription information, please click here.
- Seven weeks after the loss in the finale at Washington and a second straight 8-8 finish, the offseason plans of the Cowboys appear pretty clear. The brass believes the roster itself, outside of a few tweaks here and there and another strong draft, is already in place.
- The objective of the 2013 offseason was clearly the coaching staff, which Cowboys vice president Stephen Jones admitted at the Scouting Combine. And whether that was indeed the problem these last two mediocre campaigns, it’s impossible not to be impressed with this revamped group. Staggeringly so.
- Salaries of assistant coaches aren’t known, but here’s guessing, heck, just about guaranteeing, that this is the highest paid coaching staff in the history of the NFL. Monte Kiffin is revered around the league as one of the top-3 defensive coordinators of the last 20 years, right there with Dick Lebeau and Wade Phillips. Wouldn’t take into account his last three years in the college ranks for multiple reasons: 1) At this point, it’s a completely different game offensively as compared to the NFL; 2) he never had the chance to recruit his own players with his son, Lane, spending just the one year at Tennessee before taking the USC job.
- Landing Rod Marinelli to coach the defensive line was a staggering coup. Kind of like having the head groundskeeper at Augusta National mow your lawn or Steven Spielberg directing your kid’s school play. He’s grossly overqualified and only took the gig to coach again with Kiffin, but hey, all the better for the Cowboys.
- For the last three seasons, Marinelli has been the defensive coordinator and assistant head coach of the Chicago Bears. In that time, only the New England Patriots, with 113, forced more turnovers than Chicago’s 110. Over that same stretch, the Cowboys forced 71. Yes, 71. That’s 39 fewer offensive possessions, or 13 per season. That is stunning.
- Also, the Bears were a combined 29-19, and the defenses finished among the top 4 for scoring average in two of those three years. Add that up and it’s almost incomprehensible Marinelli isn’t a head coach, nevermind a coordinator elsewhere.
- Once Rob Ryan was let go, it quickly became apparent that the entire staff could be replaced in all three phases, but that wasn’t the case. Really like the mix of new and returning, the latter inclusive of Jerome Henderson (secondary), Matt Eberflus (linebackers), Wade Wilson (quarterbacks) and Chris Boniol (kickers). Many around the league think Henderson will be a head coach, possibly in the next three or four years.
- As for the play-calling, we may never know. Certainly not now, likely not in the preseason, and honestly, probably not thereafter. Am thinking the mantra is going to be a team effort, with Jason Garrett and Bill Callahan sharing the duties. This is disappointing in that time management has been such a struggle since the former became head coach midway through 2010, not only late in halves with timeouts and the such, but in relaying the play calls to Tony Romo and snapping the ball before a delay-of-game flag. This is also taking away Romo’s ability to audible, as in many instances there is barely enough time to read the MIKE and snap the ball. Garrett has been juggling too many responsibilities, and it would have been reassuring to see him defer the play-calling to Callahan.
- My No. 1 disappointment among the staff changes was Jimmy Robinson, who coached the wide receivers the last two years and was universally credited for Dez Bryant’s breakout second half. Robinson is now a senior coaching consultant, so here’s guessing he’ll be around from time to time. Nothing against his replacement, former Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley, just thought Robinson, who turned 60 this past January, had really worked wonders with not only Dez, but Dwayne Harris and Cole Beasley. Also not sure the decision of semi-retirement was Robinson’s or the team’s, but will say having spoken with Robinson toward the end of the season, he was clearly exhausted.
- Some 53 years ago, Gil Brandt was trying to assemble a roster of players for the inaugural season of the Dallas Cowboys. This past weekend, Brandt, a week away from celebrating his 80th birthday, was breaking stories and sharing information from the Scouting Combine via Twitter. Amazing.
- It’s criminal that Brandt hasn’t written a book. There is nobody, at least that I’m aware of, who has more stories about the last half century of the NFL. Secondly, and this isn’t the first time these words have been written or said, Brandt belongs in the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a contributor. He more or less invented pro scouting, and the combine for that matter, and was the personnel director for the Cowboys for 29 seasons. He wasn’t the general manager in title, Tex Schramm was, but Brandt was responsible for drafts, trades, free agents. In today’s NFL, he would be considered the GM.
- Have to like the Cowboys’ draft position based on what the gurus are saying about this year’s incoming class. Lot of talent on both sides of the line, not a big difference between the fifth and 25th player on a team’s board, depth is there for the taking in the middle rounds, certainly not a sexy draft at the skill positions. For me, that’s a whole lot of good news for Dallas.
- Again, and we will hear this over and over the next two months, can’t draft for need, especially early. At least in terms of a specific position, say guard. However, the Cowboys need immense help at three positions, offensive and defensive line and safety. Now, we’re talking seven specific positions, so that’s different. Could they take another position in the first? Don’t think so, no.
- This may be a lofty goal, but depending on how these next few weeks progress in reaching the cap by March 12, the league’s deadline, the Cowboys may need three starters from the draft. As in starters in 2013.
- Will be interesting to see if either “redshirt” from last year’s draft makes an impact, safety Matt Johnson and wide receiver Danny Coale. Both positions could be lacking depth.
- The offensive line has to be the focus of these next two months. Has to be. One could easily argue that of the top-10 offensive lines in the NFL last season, seven were among the final eight teams standing in the playoffs. In each of the eight seasons the Cowboys have gone to a Super Bowl they possessed a top-3 offensive line, 13 Pro Bowl nods among them. This isn’t a coincidence.
Follow Jeff Sullivan on Twitter, @SullyBaldHead, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- No team with a higher strength of schedule winning percentage than the Cowboys finished at .500 or better last season. The only teams with tougher slates, St. Louis, Detroit, Arizona and Jacksonville, finished a combined 18-45-1.