The fans are clamoring for change. New head coach, new coordinators, new position coaches, new wide receivers, new mascot (wait, maybe that’s just me). Much like an SEC football program, there is no form of success that doesn’t end with a championship. Sure, there are 31 other teams in the league, but no matter, this is what the “fans” believe is their birthright.
Know what, though? This isn’t going to be another one of my rants on the unrealistic and absurd expectations of the Dallas Cowboys. Yes, they should have won a Super Bowl these last 22 years, played in a couple, three or four NFC Championship Games, that’s undeniable.
Here’s the reality: There are going to be almost no changes between now and the 2018 regular-season opener. My best guess: A few tweaks among the position coaches, the usual bottom-half roster turnover, they use the franchise tag for DeMarcus Lawrence, hope for another solid draft, and there are 16, 17, maybe even 18 returning starters next year.
As for the coordinators, that’s a tough call. If Rod Marinelli wants to return, he’ll turn 69 years old before camp starts, he has more than earned that right and the Cowboys should be elated. If he does retire, I think his replacement is already on the staff in linebackers coach Matt Eberflus. I wouldn’t be surprised if they make a change at offensive coordinator, but, and I know this is boring, I wouldn’t be surprised if they didn’t make a change.
Change is most definitely NOT happening in the form of a new head coach. And it shouldn’t. Jason Garrett absolutely, positively deserves another season. I do think, much like in 2014, he’s going to be on watch in terms of, if the Cowboys don’t qualify for the playoffs, no matter the reasons and excuses, it’s time for a change. Pretty difficult to justify eight full seasons as the head coach of one of the premier franchises in professional sports and earning only two playoff berths, not to mention just the one postseason win.
This has to stop. This has to end. The Cowboys cannot accept being what they have become. This very sentence has half those reading screaming aloud, thinking this hypocrite just said Garrett deserves another season, yet readily admits that this franchise demands better results than he’s provided.
Yeah, kind of, sort of, except that, well, this isn’t as simple as football and wins and losses. Wish it were. The distractions, which were caused in zero part by Garrett, in both 2015 and this season were beyond any the franchise has dealt with the last 20 years. This year alone was tenfold more about off-the-field stories than on.
There is just no reason to blow this up here and now.
First off, not to steal the Philadelphia 76ers thunder, but why wouldn’t we trust the draft process at this point, of which Garrett plays a significant role, as much as any head coach not named Bill Belichick. Has any team put together stronger drafts the last two years? I don’t think so. Should have eight or nine starters and Ryan Switzer returning kicks and punts from just those two classes. And Taco Charlton has been playing better of late: six solo tackles, five QB hurries, two sacks and a forced fumble the last four games.
I think that the 2016 haul was so ridiculously successful that some haven’t appreciated this current crop of rookies. Depending on Week 17, this group could, probably will, end up around fifth or sixth in the league in terms of snaps played and productiveness. Now, everyone knows we can’t rank a draft class after a year or two. Five years seems about the prevailing time frame. This I do know, though: If Stephen Jones, Will McClay and Garrett keep putting up top-5 draft classes year-after-year, that’s certainly going to improve the talent level of this football team.
The core is there, too.
There has been so much overreaction to Dak Prescott’s play. One doesn’t start a career 21-9 as a starter (not including the Philly finale last season) with 44 touchdown passes and 17 interceptions by accident. In fact, no one has ever done that in NFL history. No quarterback over his first two seasons has won 20 games, thrown at least 44 TDs and thrown less than 18 picks. The only one to come close is Russell Wilson, who won 24 games while throwing 52 TDs and 19 interceptions. So Dak can become the first with one or zero picks on Sunday.
Not sure anyone would trade a 1-2 running back combination entering next season for Ezekiel Elliott and Rod Smith. As for the offensive line, it’s really all about Tyron Smith’s health going forward. Yes, Zack Martin will be re-signed long term and the most improved player on the entire team the second half of the season has been La’el Collins.
For the third straight season, the Cowboys will not have a 1,000-yard receiver. Before that dubious run, the team produced one in every season but 2011, dating back to 2004.
This leads me to two quick points: Yes, Dez Bryant should return next year. I was really impressed with how he dealt with the media earlier this week, and he’s not a problem on the practice field or in the locker room. Dez isn’t the guy the national media tries to spin him as.
On the field, I have no idea what has happened to Dez, but he just turned 29, and probably doesn’t have a ton of trade value, so it makes zero sense to release him based on the cap savings. One more year.
Now, we all know you don’t reach for position in the draft, and McClay will be the first to verify that. Still, Dallas needs some playmakers in the passing game, be it a wide receiver or a tight end. Think Jason Witten plays another season, but the offense needs more options, and no one is quite sure where Rico Gathers is.
The defense should only improve going forward with the young secondary making skyscraper-like improvements the last few months. Think we would all love to see David Irving and Lawrence play 16 games together, too.
Finally, let’s say the Cowboys win Sunday, which they should based on who each team is playing. That would make Garrett 22-10 the last two seasons. Who fires a coach who wins nearly 70 percent of his games in the NFL? The only instances I can think of is George Allen with Washington in 1977, and he supposedly wanted too much money; Jimmy Johnson with Dallas in 1993, and we know that story; and Marty Schottenheimer, who went 35-13 his last three years with San Diego. Since, the Chargers are 91-79, have made the playoffs once since 2009 and relocated to Los Angeles to play in a half-empty soccer stadium.
The Bills did it with Wade Phillips, who went 29-19 with two playoff berths in three seasons before being fired following the 2000 campaign. The franchise hasn’t played in a postseason game since.
Also, according to an ESPN.com story from earlier this year, since 1978, teams with losing records who replace their coach improved 1.6 wins the following season. Losing teams who didn’t replace their coach improved 1.6 wins the following season. Yes, the exact same. Hiring a new coach doesn’t always rectify the issue, which more times than not are the players anyhow.
Including his 5-3 stint in 2010, Garrett also only has suffered one losing season in eight tries. Yeah, I did some fuzzy math there, but still, it is what it is.
Everyone wants change, especially when they’re frustrated, but luckily I think Jerry and Stephen Jones know what’s best for their franchise, and as boring as it might sound, that’s keeping the majority together for another season.
Follow Jeff Sullivan on Twitter, @SullyBaldHead, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.