IRVING, Texas -- It's hard to dissect what Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones is saying about coach Jason Garrett these days.
There have been reports since the Atlanta game that Jones would consider dumping Garrett for Sean Payton if he becomes free of his contract with the New Orleans Saints.
In some ways, Payton remains in limbo for the 2013 season.
Jones has never said anything regarding the possibility of Garrett's job being on the line. While Payton is an excellent coach with a Super Bowl ring -- one who was missed this season by the Saints because of his one-year suspension -- Garrett is the best man for the job right now.
We're not sure how Payton would have handled the death of Jerry Brown or even Dez Bryant's offseason arrest. We do know Payton would have managed some of the Cowboys' games this season better than Garrett.
Maybe it's experience or maybe Payton is just better.
We believe Payton is better, but that doesn't mean Garrett has to go.
It seems unfair that Garrett's job status is being talked about considering his team was 3-5 at one point, having lost four of five games in the most difficult part of their schedule.
Garrett has the Cowboys on the verge of a playoff berth if they win Sunday night on the road in Washington. The Cowboys have won three of their past five games; they were 3-0 in December before losing to New Orleans 34-31 in overtime on Sunday. The last time the Cowboys started December 3-0 was 1993.
The Cowboys have bought into what Garrett is preaching. Firing him won't be the answer to the franchise's problems, regardless of Sunday's outcome.
The team needs to draft better and fix its salary-cap problems (roughly $20 million over). There are two veteran players, Jay Ratliff and Doug Free, who struggled with their health and play this season. The Cowboys need to decide if they're worth keeping in 2013. The offensive line, like most in the NFL, was inconsistent.
Finding backup running backs and seeing if there's another solid pass-rusher in free agency or the draft are among the priorities in 2013.
Payton can't fix all this. Garrett can't either. But Garrett's plan is the right one for the Cowboys. The players have bought into his one-game-at-a time mantra. He holds players accountable, not so much in the media but in other ways. Just look at Free's status. He's now in a rotation with Jermey Parnell. We've seen reduced playing time for Felix Jones and Kevin Ogletree. Dez Bryant's punt-return duties were taken away after too many mistakes.
Garrett churns the bottom of the roster, looking for ways to improve it.
Would Payton have done this? Probably.
But he isn't here. Garrett is, and his team is a victory away from an NFC East title and a home playoff game.