ORLANDO – Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett spoke to the media for the first time since free agency began, meaning it was the first time since the Cowboys parted ways with veterans such as DeMarcus Ware and Jason Hatcher.
Clearly, there has been an organizational change over the last few weeks as the Cowboys appear to be going with a younger, more conservative approach. Even their main free-agent signing this offseason – former Bears defensive tackle Henry Melton – signed a one year-deal with an option for three more seasons depending on his performance and health.
While that sounds like a smart plan for a team that hasn't been able to get over the hump despite being maxed out on the salary cap for years, how does it work with Garrett, who is in the final year of his contract and seemingly needs to win and get into the playoffs, although Jerry Jones said Tuesday that "isn't necessarily the case."
Still, Garrett said he understands the team's approach to handling the business aspect of cycling in new talent.
"You always want to infuse your team with young talent. You're always trying to build your team for now and for going forward," Garrett said Wednesday in the NFC Coaches Breakfast at the league owners meetings in Orlando. "You don't want to build your team with guys based on what they've done in the past. It's based on what they can do now for your team, and what they can do going forward for your team. That's not a commentary on anyone we've let go.
"We feel like DeMarcus Ware has a lot of good football left in him. We feel like Jason Hatcher has a lot of good football left in him. Those are the two marquee guys we're talking about. But we had to make an organizational decision in a salary-cap era, given our salary-cap circumstances. Again, we felt like these are the best moves for our team now and moving forward."
But for a coach like Garrett, who might not have the same amount of remaining time to develop players, it's a tough balance in going younger and sticking with veteran, experienced players.
"You certainly like players who know what they're doing," Garrett said. "But if you look around the league you have to continue to try to keep your team young. Again, there are a lot of different factors that go into this. Age is a factor. What players make is a factor in the salary-cap era. Injuries and availability are factors. Again, you have to put all that stuff together and try to make the best decision you can for your football team."
Garrett enters his fourth full season as head coach, going 24-24 with three 8-8 seasons that each ended with a Week 17 loss with the NFC East title at stake. Garrett went 5-3 as an interim head coach in 2010, making his overall record 29-27 since replacing Wade Phillips.
Entering the last year of his contract, Garrett said there have been no discussions with Jerry Jones about a new deal.
"We really haven't talked about that at all. Again, my focus is on coaching to the best of my ability each and every day," Garrett said. "That was the philosophy I had as a player and it certainly hasn't changed as a coach. I wake up each and every morning to try to do what I can do as the head coach of this football team to help the Dallas Cowboys become a better football team. That's really what I focus on." [embedded_ad]
When asked about a deadline to put the program in place, Garrett smiled, knowing the deadline to win began the minute he took over as the interim head coach.
"You need to show it immediately, as you're trying to put your program in place you're playing games and the games count," Garrett said. "That started in the middle of the 2010 season when I took over as the interim head coach. These games on Sunday count. We understand that. The sense of urgency we have as coaches and players is palpable, is strong. Having said that, you've got to be careful about being shortsighted and make it all immediate-results oriented. You want to put your program in place, you want to bring the right kind of people in, you want to make the right decisions for your team now and going forward. That's what we've tried to do.
"We've played in the Week 17 game to win the division the last three years. We put ourselves in the position to achieve our immediate goal, which is to win the NFC East. Hopefully that takes us on a path to be a Super Bowl champion. That's what our tangible goals are. We put ourselves in great position to do that, each of the last three years we just haven't gotten that done. But we understand the balance of trying to put a program in and understanding you have to win in this league."
The overall goals and destination seem to be the same for Garrett and the Cowboys, even though the approach and offseason philosophies might have been altered.