FRISCO, Texas – If this feels familiar, then congratulations; you've been paying close attention all these years.
A lot has changed for the Dallas Cowboys since January of 2014 – too much to bother getting into right now. In all those years, though, two things have remained constant: Jason Garrett is the team's head coach, and there is endless speculation about how much longer that will be the case.
The latest round of scrutiny began on Thursday, when reports cropped up that Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones is unlikely to extend Garrett's contract.
As those reports indicated, Jones could always change his mind. He owns the team, after all. But if he doesn't Garrett could be in a situation where he's coaching for his job in 2019, as he works through the final year of the five-year contract he signed back in January of 2015.
That leads back to the original point. Garrett earned that last contract during a so-called "lame duck" year. Heading into 2014, the Cowboys had fallen short of the playoffs in three-straight seasons and conventional wisdom suggested it was either playoffs or bust for the fourth-year head coach.
Asked about it at the time, Jones said Garrett possessed the mental makeup to thrive without long-term security.
"He's got a high tolerance for ambiguity," Jones said at the 2014 NFL Combine. "He does. That's very important with this situation."
Garrett actually spoke about the issue himself while he was scouting the 2014 Senior Bowl, which just goes to show how much time has passed since then. In the time since, Garrett has had work obligations during Senior Bowl week – in 2015, 2017 and 2019, he was coaching the Pro Bowl, and in 2016 he was coaching the Senior Bowl game itself.
Regardless, even back then, Garrett was true to his usual commitment of focusing on the task at hand.
"I'm focused on doing my job and our staff's job as well as we can do it," he said at the time. "That's always been my approach in this game – as a player, as a coach. That's what I'm focused on. The business side takes care of itself. We've got to do a better job to break through and become the team we want to be."
The situation has changed drastically, but the words still ring true. In 2014, Garrett was coming off a 24-22 defeat to the Philadelphia Eagles on the last night of the season – the third-straight time the Cowboys had come up short of the division title in Week 17.
In the five years since, his team has tasted playoff success. The Cowboys went 12-4 and won the NFC East in that final year of his contract, and they've done it two more times since. Garrett has two playoff wins on his resume, which accounts for half of the franchise's total playoff wins since its last Super Bowl at the end of the 1995 season.
Of course, the problem – and likely the reason why Garrett's deal hasn't been extended – is that those playoff wins haven't come in succession. The Cowboys have been defeated in the divisional round in all three of those trips, as the NFC Championship Game has famously eluded them for 23 years.
Jones referenced that himself earlier this week during an interview on 105.3 FM in Dallas when he voiced his support for Garrett – while simultaneously stating his desire for more.
"I think I've made clear how I feel about Jason in terms of where he is right now as far as our ability to help us win football games," Jones said. "I think if you look at what we've done over the last few years, you'll see a pretty good winning record there -- it's not enough, not enough."
And so, the Cowboys and Jason Garrett appear to be in a completely different place, albeit facing very similar circumstances.
As history shows, it would be a mistake to assume the lack of a contract extension spells doom for Garrett. Jones has voiced his support for Garrett on countless occasions, and he has often stated that Garrett's on-the-job learning and experience is a long-term investment.
"Does he have some things that others may do better, or does he have some things that he could do better? Of course," Jones said in November. "But what we've got here is an asset that I think will get us to where we want to go, and that's a championship."
At the same time, the NFL is a prove-it league. And history also shows that Jones is not afraid to make his head coach prove he can take the next step.