The author of “America’s Team: The Official History of the Dallas Cowboys,” Sullivan also writes a new column in each issue of Dallas Cowboys Star Magazine. For subscription information, please click here.
This has been an offseason filled with smart football decisions. Five years ago, chances are DeMarcus Ware and Jason Hatcher would have been signed to extensions, likely DeMarco Murray, too, and Johnny Manziel would currently be starring in the Oxnard Circus.
Instead, the Cowboys have continued their recent trend of becoming younger and quicker, much in the same mold of how Jimmy Johnson built his team a quarter century ago. Zack Martin is hitting everything within a 30-foot radius and looking old-school tough in the process. And 27-year-old Henry Melton is playing like a man possessed. Winning teams start and finish on the lines and the Cowboys have a dramatically improved defensive front and quite possibly the premier offensive line in the NFL.
This is very good news. Guarded optimism is more than appropriate for those hoping for success in 2014.
There's just one problem. Actually, it's a ginormous, humungous, really, really big problem. It's not the elephant in the room. More like a herd of elephants in one of those plastic kiddie pools. Not going to end well.
Jerry Jones has to sign Jason Garrett to an extension. Before the season opener against San Francisco. Or sooner. Like today. Like right now. Like before this column is finished.
Now, it doesn't need to be a long-term deal. If Jones is pleased with what he sees this season, not specifically 10 or 11 wins, although that certainly wouldn't hurt, but progress in his hand-picked head coach, then Garrett will receive a five-year extension. This isn't a guess; this is what Jones has told me. There isn't going to be any two-year deal. It's going to be a long-term commitment. From the start, Jones has hoped that Garrett will be his Tom Landry. He has never hid that fact.
And that's fine. Jones should wait and see what this season brings before deciding if Garrett is the answer for the foreseeable future. However, he shouldn't leave Garrett hanging in lame-duck status entering the season. Heck, just give him an extra year, through 2015.
Think of how much money is invested into a football season between player salaries, travel, the stadium, the day-to-day operations. Extending Garrett another year would be a minimal financial risk compared to the overall investment.
If not, after each loss, even in September, we're going to hear countless speculation from the print journalists (do they still exist?) to the talking heads about Garrett's job security, the top coaching candidates to replace him, Gruden, Cowher, just a brutal beatdown as the story of the season becomes Garrett. Let 2014 be about football, be brazen. Not saying Clint Murchison Jr. signing Landry to a 10-year deal before his first winning season. Just a little job security so the questions – which will still come, mind you – can be answered quite simply:
"Jason is our head coach, he's signed beyond this year, and we're focused on winning."
Rather than the awkward, "Well, everyone knows his contract expires at season's end, and we'll evaluate the situation then. He has our full confidence."
This has been the smartest offseason for the Cowboys in a decade, and they have a chance to really start enjoying some success. This team has been much closer than the majority has realized these last few years. The tipping point, the fork in the road, whatever metaphor one chooses, is going to be this season.
So why not eliminate a huge distraction? Football players, assistant coaches, Garrett himself, are more or less just like us. They have ability, a talent we don't possess that happens to pay a lot of money, but they function the same as us in terms of emotions and thought process. So this guy, my boss, is telling me I have to change, is telling me I have to do this or that better, but why exactly should I listen when his you-know-what is likely out the door at season's end? I'll still be here, start fresh with the new coaching staff and be all good. Time to officially block said voice out.
Obviously not all the players are going to do this. Might just be a handful or so, who knows? When football teams have a sense a head coach is out, though, they tend to shut down. Look no further than Wade Phillips. The team, which won a playoff game the season previous, lost his last two games in 2010 by a combined score of 80-24. They knew, and their play dictated such. The same team minus Tony Romo went 5-3 under Jason Garrett after a 1-7 start cost Uncle Wade his gig.
And don't give me that "this isn't how it works in the real world" nonsense. None of this is how it works in the real world. Jay Ratliff, JaMarcus Russell, Roy Williams, the list is endless. Think Charlie Weis is being paid by Notre Dame through the next millennium yet he last coached there in 2009. [embedded_ad]
Specifics on the deal aren't needed. Before this situation, Jones had never commented on contracts concerning his head coaches. Let's return to that mantra. Announce a contract extension, smile for the cameras, answer some basic questions and then eliminate 90 percent of the distractions this team will face the next five months.
Now, let's go play some football. Because you know what? This is the most talented roster the Cowboys have assembled since 2007, so let the focus be on the players and the games themselves rather than the head coach and his job security.
No team can eliminate injuries. If Jones could pay a lump sum to the football gods for this team to be injury-free, he'd write the check in a heartbeat. So why not eliminate another potential issue that he can solve in the same manner? Jones has often said that in the oil business, you look for every advantage possible before making a decision to drill. It's not random luck.
Neither is a winning football team.
No one is saying signing Garrett is guaranteeing the Cowboys a winning season. In eliminating the distraction, however, it does give the team another advantage.
This needs to happen. Let this season be about the players, the wins and the losses and not 24/7 speculation about the head coach. If not, the circus may still be coming to town.
Follow Jeff Sullivan on Twitter, @SullyBaldHead, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.