SHELTERED IN PLACE, Texas – Here is the level of respect former Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett had for his center Travis Frederick when asked to comment on his announcement to retire after seven years in the NFL with the Cowboys.
Once seeing a message, says he returned the call "immediately, out of respect for Travis."
You bet Garrett had respect for Frederick and the high level of play he afforded the head coach during his six years of playing at a five-time Pro Bowl level, along with the unwavering dedication to helping the team anyway he could during his year-long struggle and recovery from Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) in 2018.
Face it, center was one the Cowboys' weakest positions once five-time Pro Bowl center Andre Gurode moved on after the 2010 season. Over the next two years the Cowboys started the undersized Phil Costa at center in 2011, then Ryan Cook for 11 games in 2012, Costa for three, and on an offensive line besides Tyron Smith and Doug Free were the likes of Kevin Kowalski, Nate Livings, Jermey Parnell and Mackenzy Bernadeau.
Not only did those centers have a hard time holding up in the passing game, they were getting knocked off the ball backwards in the running game.
Then Travis arrived.
"So he really solidified the interior of our offensive line," said Garrett, now the New York Giants offensive coordinator after the Cowboys allowed his contract to expire and replaced him with new head coach Mike McCarthy. "His combination of smarts, leadership and physical traits that he had was something else, and not many centers have that combination. You have guys who are really good zone blockers that aren't so good in protection. You have guys who are really good protectors but not so good in the run game. He was so good in all aspects of the run and all aspects of the pass – a tremendous leader and great example for everybody on that line, for the offense and throughout our team."
That was just the beginning in that 2013 season when the Cowboys selected Frederick with the 31st pick in the first round. And after his rookie season, Frederick went to four consecutive Pro Bowls, then added that fifth in 2019 after missing the 2018 season. He became the Cowboys' first Pro Bowl center since Gurode in 2010, and matched his five Pro Bowls for most in franchise history by a center.
In fact, in the 60-year history of the Cowboys, they've only had three other Pro Bowl centers: Mark Stepnoski (3), Ray Donaldson (2) and Dave Manders (1). All the more indication of the quality Frederick brought to the Cowboys.
"Travis to me is a really special guy," Garrett said. "He was the second piece to the offensive line, put in place as we were trying to rebuild it, Tyron being the first one. And Travis instantly became a cornerstone for the line and throughout our team. To me, it's such a unique combination of traits for a center. He was a great leader. He's smart. He was vocal. Everybody really respected him. Undoubtedly, the leader upfront.
"And physically, he was capable of (scraping off) in the running game, getting to the second level and blocking linebackers. But also big and strong enough to block the big tackles in the league, drive them off the ball. Protect against those guys. He had great anchor and also so aware to help the other guys in pass protection."
But the biggest impression made on Garrett came during the 2018 season when his four-time Pro Bowl center at the time contracted the rare GBS autoimmune disorder. After holding out hope for Frederick to come around, the Cowboys eventually placed him on injured reserve. Out for the season.
Not only did the Cowboys have a new starting center in Joe Looney, they also had a new offensive line coach in Paul Alexander and a new starting left guard in rookie Connor Williams. And most of all, they did not have Frederick … on the field.
"You've heard me say this before: There're a lot of different ways to demonstrate leadership, but I thought his leadership last year (2018) when he was out was off the charts," Garrett said. "It was something special that a lot of guys who go on IR and try to stay connected with the team, they're in meetings but then they're off doing their own stuff and whatever they need to do to get themselves healthy. But he was literally at every meeting, at every walk-thru, at every practice, in and around all the stuff he was trying to do to get himself healthy.
"You know, it was a little bit transitional with the offensive line coach and the young guys were playing and he was a stabilizing influence for everybody. It was not just for a week, two weeks. It was every day, every week, the whole year. He had a huge impact on our team, the team that goes to the divisional round, without playing a snap.
So knowing how valuable Frederick was to the team, even last year upon his return when certainly a combination of factors led to quarterback Dak Prescott's sack total dropping from 56 in 2018 to 23 this past season, though Frederick's return being a significant one, did his announced retirement on Monday surprise the Cowboys former head coach of nine and a half seasons.
"I know last year was a tremendous challenge for him to come back, and really he played at a very high level, obviously Pro Bowl level," Garrett said. "But he's a very sincere, genuine guy. With some of the conversations I had with him, I don't know that I would say he was retiring, but sometimes there were some messages that he sent, so I guess it wasn't a complete surprise to me. But still, 29 years old, Pro Bowl player, there was a lot of football ahead of him, you know, and I think it takes everybody back a little bit."
So understand the high level of respect Garrett has for Frederick. He really has not said much, if at all, about his departure from the Cowboys, mostly what's he said in interviews reserved for his new gig with the Giants, which by the way has him in the same boat as McCarthy's new staff with the Cowboys, having to start from scratch with a new head coach and staff paused indefinitely starting this week from getting into a full offseason routine.
Yet, Frederick was definitely on his mind.
"Obviously he's a great person to have in your building but also a great person to have in your community," Garrett said. "He's been so impactful in so many of the different initiatives he's been involved in off the field. Just a really, really special guy.
"And someone I'm going to miss coaching very much."