NFC East: Jason Garrett

Status has its privileges

April, 8, 2014
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IRVING, Texas – Back in the day American Express made famous the slogan, “Membership has its privileges.”

It was that iconic ad that popped into my head when I saw the picture of Tony Romo and Jason Witten in Jerry Jones’ suite at AT&T Stadium Monday night at the NCAA men’s basketball final with Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton. Running back DeMarco Murray was also in the suite, but not in the much-circulated photo.

I tweaked the ad some: status has its privileges.

New SEC Network hire and former Dallas Cowboys defensive end Marcus Spears sparked debate on Twitter Monday and it continued on Tuesday. Spears wondered if teammates of Romo and Witten would be upset to see them hanging with the presidents and celebrities.

Spears has a point, but if Cam Lawrence or Ronald Leary were upset Romo, Witten and Murray were in the suite, oh well. Should I be upset Chris Berman gets to play in the Pebble Beach Pro-Am every year and I don't? Oh well.

Status has its privileges in any line of work. Those three have status, especially Witten and Romo, and we don’t know who else was invited to sit in the power suite to see Connecticut beat Kentucky but unable to attend for whatever reason.

Witten and Romo have been with the Cowboys since 2003. Witten has been to the Pro Bowl nine times. He was named the NFL’s Man of the Year in 2012. Romo owns most of the Cowboys’ passing records and has been to three Pro Bowls. Jones has showed his faith in the quarterback by signing him to two big-time contract extensions. Murray is coming off his first Pro Bowl season.

As teams go, not all players are created equally. Jimmy Johnson didn’t treat Troy Aikman the same as he treated a third-string safety. Bill Parcells treated “his guys” differently than the other guys.

Too many people believe professional sports are entirely different than an office you or I may work in. There is office politics everywhere.

You like some people. You’re OK with some people. You distance yourself from some people. You loathe some people. But you do your job for the common good, be it winning football games or producing widgets.

It can be safely assumed Witten, Romo and Murray were invited by Jones to the suite. He’s the boss. He’s the guy who signs the checks. You have a chance to talk with Presidents Bush and Clinton and some other celebrity folks, would you say no to your boss because the guy in the next cubicle didn’t get invited?

Of course you wouldn’t.

To me, the question is should Jones have put those three guys in position to be perceived as above their teammates in a public way? I doubt the question even crossed Jones’ mind and I’m not sure it even needed to cross it. He was simply making a kind gesture to three of his top players -- and maybe more -- and they took him up on the offer.

If there are players that are upset, then, well, they’ll just have to get over it. But they should also realize Witten, Romo, who is also rehabbing from back surgery, and Murray have been working out at Valley Ranch well before the official start of the offseason program on April 21.

That’s what should matter most to them.

Like just about everything with the Cowboys, perception overrules reality. The perception of the photo might tell one story, but it doesn’t mean it’s the whole story.

Cowboys Twitter mailbag, Part 2

April, 5, 2014
Apr 5
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IRVING, Texas -- Part 2 of the Dallas Cowboys' Twitter mailbag is ready. We touch on a number of subjects ranging from: Chris Johnson, Miles Austin, Tony Romo's successor and cap hell.

If you want to see Part 1, click here.

Away we go:

With so many toys at Jay Gruden's disposal in Robert Griffin III, Pierre Garcon, Andre Roberts, Jordan Reed and DeSean Jackson, how does Alfred Morris fit in offense?

Morris
In his three years as the Cincinnati Bengals offensive coordinator, Gruden had two 1,000-yard rushers in Cedric Benson (1,067 in 2011) and BenJarvus Green-Ellis (1,094 in 2012). The Bengals ran for 1,788 yards, 1,745 yards and 1,755 yards in Gruden’s three years as coordinator.

But he also had A.J. Green, Marvin Jones, Andrew Hawkins and Mohamed Sanu at receiver. In the playoff loss to the San Diego Chargers, he got pass-happy.

“Jay sees the offense through the eyes of the quarterback, and having played the position, he has a great deal of respect for the position,” said Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said at the NFL owners meetings in this Washington Post story. “He’ll say these guys are the luckiest guys because he would’ve given his right arm – left arm, I guess – to have the opportunity to be an NFL quarterback. So, he really is conscientious of that. He really has things unfold through the eyes of the quarterback."

Because he sees things as a quarterback, will he rely more on the passing game? It has been an argument used against Jason Garrett for his years as the playcaller with the Dallas Cowboys. Sean Payton was a quarterback and he leans more to the pass with the New Orleans Saints.

It’s only natural.

But Morris offers Gruden a better running back than what he had in Cincinnati. He rushed for 1,613 yards and 13 touchdowns as a rookie in 2012. He followed that up with 1,275 yards and seven touchdowns in 2013.

Was it a function of Mike Shanahan’s scheme and the coach’s ability to find running backs anywhere and everywhere?

The NFL is a passing league these days, but Gruden can’t get away from Morris and become too pass-happy if the Redskins want to be successful.
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ORLANDO, Fla. -- On Tuesday morning, Dallas Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones said coach Jason Garrett's job is not on the line. Garrett is in the final year of his contract, and if anything, Jones said he and Garrett are shoulder-to-shoulder in decisions and he's confident 2014 will become better.

Tuesday afternoon at the NFL owners meetings, Garrett said he's glad to not only be on the same page with Jones, but he's not worried about his contract status.

"I've been in this league as a player and coach a long time, my focus has always been on doing my job as well as I can do it, regardless of what my contract status is," Garrett told ESPNDallas. "That’s something I just continue to focus on and we really emphasis that to our players, there’s a business side of football, that’s a part of this thing, but you need to focus on doing what you do as well as you can do it. That's just the way that I've always looked at it."

Jones said Garrett had the right to make changes to the coaching staff, which included hiring good friend Scott Linehan as the offensive playcaller replacing Bill Callahan, who maintains the position of offensive coordinator/offensive line coach.

The Cowboys were on the same page in releasing defensive end DeMarcus Ware, whom Garrett said was one of the best the franchise ever had, and in other decisions such as signing Jeremy Mincey and Henry Melton to improve the defensive line.

"I think that's a critical thing for everybody in the organization," Garrett said. "Everybody being on the same page, it takes communication, communicate deeply and well on a lot of different issues and hopefully you can develop the trust that you need. That applies to head coaches and owner, head coach and all his coaches, those guys among each other and obviously coaching staff with players and players among each other. If you can develop that trust within an organization it’s going to show up on the field and we believe in that strongly and we continue to try and do as well as we can."
IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys have put a lot of thought and time into the grievance they have filed against Jeremiah "Jay" Ratliff, but their chances of receiving salary-cap credit are not the best.

The Cowboys would have had a much better case against Ratliff if they had suspended him when he got into owner/general manager Jerry Jones’ face in the locker room after a win during the 2012 season.

Ratliff
It was the ultimate showing of conduct detrimental to the team.

Instead, Jones thought the relationship with Ratliff could be salvaged, even if it had soured with many people behind the scenes who had to deal with him on a day-to-day basis. There were hard feelings with the team’s athletic training staff for months. He was surly and hardly the kind of guy some portrayed him to be.

The Cowboys made it worse last offseason when they restructured his contract to gain salary-cap space. The move guaranteed Ratliff more money -- after he played in only six games in 2012 because of sports-hernia surgery -- and put the Cowboys in the hole against the salary cap in the future. He was supposed to be a fixture in the move from the 3-4 to the 4-3 as the vaunted 3-technique Rod Marinelli craved.

Except he never played a game in 2013. He did not pass the conditioning test at the start of training camp, and the Cowboys placed him on the physically unable to perform list. Ratliff was not pleased with the designation. Off to the side, he went through some pretty rigorous workouts with assistant defensive line coach Leon Lett, but the closest Ratliff would get to the field was in a walk-through.

At the final cuts, the Cowboys kept him on PUP, which knocked him out of the first six games. They hoped the extra time would help his rehab and get him back on the field. He did most of his rehab away from Valley Ranch, which was not the team’s standard operating procedure. When he showed up shortly before he was eligible to come off the PUP list, he wasn’t close to being ready to play.

The Cowboys decided then to part ways with Ratliff. He counts $6.9 million against the Cowboys’ salary cap on 2014. For now.

At the time of his release, Ratliff’s agent, Mark Slough, said his client would not play in 2013 but would focus on 2014 because the injury Ratliff suffered was much more severe than the typical sports hernia. A day later, Slough said Ratliff would be open to playing in 2013.

Eyebrows were raised, and the thoughts of a grievance were put in motion but were announced by Jones only on Monday.

Will the Cowboys get their money -- both in cap credit and cash? Maybe, but Jones acknowledged it will be a difficult road.

He missed a better chance to get it back in 2012.
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IRVING, Texas -- Most of the reactions to the Dallas Cowboys signing quarterback Brandon Weeden have been sarcastic, mean and vulgar, which is fine, although on a public forum you would expect more people to have some decorum.

That’s another conversation for another time for some sociological experiment at a pay grade much higher than mine.

I'll just stick with the signing of Weeden.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Weeden
Rick Osentoski/USA TODAY SportsAdding former Browns QB Brandon Weeden cost the Cowboys very little.
The Cowboys are taking a low-cost, low-risk move on a former first-round quarterback who had to suffer through playing for the Cleveland Browns. If it does not work out, then it costs the Cowboys nothing. If it does work out and Weeden makes the roster, then he counts $75,000 more against the cap than Quinton Spears.

Who?

Exactly.

The Cowboys wanted to have another arm available to them in the offseason program to protect themselves from overworking Tony Romo during the quarterback’s recovery from rehab. And if Kyle Orton is serious about this retirement talk, he won’t be a part of the offseason program, either. The only part of it Orton would have to show up for is the June minicamp.

If Orton does retire, he would need to repay $3 million of a $5 million signing bonus he received in 2012. Do you think he wants to pay that money back? If the Cowboys cut him, he’s free and clear.

The addition of Weeden can actually help the Cowboys later in the summer. As I detailed here, perhaps there is a trade scenario that could develop in training camp for Orton or even Weeden if a team loses a starting or backup quarterback.

If Weeden does stick, then the Cowboys have a veteran quarterback behind Romo in 2015 to be the backup who spent a year around the players, learning the system. (I will quickly acknowledge the system might not be the same in 2015 should Jason Garrett not earn an extension.)

The addition of Weeden does not preclude the Cowboys from drafting a quarterback in May, either. It does not even mean they will keep three quarterbacks on the 53-man roster when the season starts.

There was a time not so long ago that more than a few teams liked Weeden. Maybe not as much as the Browns, who took him in the first round, but enough that they thought he could play. His record is poor, but find me a quarterback with the Browns with a good record. His touchdown-to-interception ratio is poor, but the Cowboys aren’t asking him to come in and start.

The NFL is a player acquisition business. On Monday, the Cowboys acquired a player whom they liked two years ago, who played well enough against them in 2012 and costs nothing but a spot on the roster right now.

Analyzing what Weeden could mean

March, 14, 2014
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IRVING, Texas -- Judging from the reaction on Twitter to the Dallas Cowboys' interest in Brandon Weeden, not many of you want to see the former Cleveland Browns quarterback with the Cowboys.

Let me offer up a way the addition of Weeden could make sense.

Weeden
With Tony Romo, Kyle Orton and Weeden, the Cowboys would be set on the position for 2014 and it would probably take them out of picking a quarterback in the draft. The Cowboys liked Weeden coming out in 2012 but obviously not at the first-round level. He is older, but they viewed that as a positive and were not viewing him as a possible long-term replacement.

Things went poorly for Weeden in Cleveland. He deserves blame, but the Browns deserve a lot of blame too. He had two different coaches, two different coordinators and the guy who selected him, Mike Holmgren, was gone too. So there is that to consider. A fresh start might serve him well and I'd have to think Jason Garrett would get a read on Weeden from Norv Turner, who was his coordinator last year.

The Browns have been a place where every quarterback has gone to die, so taking a low-risk, low-cost flier on a quarterback you liked just two years ago makes some sense.

So let's fast forward to training camp and the preseason. Let's say another team loses a quarterback to injury and wants to find veteran help. We can all assume that there won't be a lot of quarterbacks available that can step in and play right away, right?

How high would a guy like Orton be on the list for a lot of teams? He threw for 358 yards and two touchdowns in his only start last year. He played extremely well in that loss; better than anybody ever expected.

If Weeden performs well enough (however you want to define that), then the Cowboys could feel comfortable in trading Orton to a team with a big need at quarterback and get a draft pick in return. Remember, this is Orton's last year under contract. If the Cowboys trade Orton before the season starts, but after July 1, then they would gain $3.25 million in cap space in 2014.

Provided he does not retire, which would be unexpected, Orton is set to count $2.254 million in dead money against the cap because of the two voidable years remaining on his contract. So the Cowboys would gain cap space that they could use to roll over in 2015 and get a draft pick for a player they were not going to keep anyway.

Does that make you feel any better?
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IRVING, Texas -- Wade Phillips has the second-best winning percentage of any coach in Dallas Cowboys' history. Better than Tom Landry's. I think Phillips might know that.

On Thursday, Phillips tweeted this:



And later followed up with this addendum:



Like most things with Phillips, he lacked context.

When Phillips took over in 2007 as head coach, he inherited a team from Bill Parcells that was ready to win. QB Tony Romo was going into his first year as a full-time starter. The defense had DE DeMarcus Ware at his best. WR Terrell Owens was putting up big numbers.

The Cowboys went 13-3 and had the best record in the NFC. Phillips was the perfect antidote to Parcells and the players responded. Well, they did to a point. The Cowboys were not the same after beating the Green Bay Packers to move to 11-1 and effectively clinch home-field advantage.

They got lucky to beat the Detroit Lions the following week. They lost two of their last three games, but they were in shutdown mode against the Washington Redskins with nothing to gain from a win.

Other than momentum they had lost.

The Cowboys lost to the New York Giants in the divisional round at Texas Stadium, and the Giants went on to win the Super Bowl.

That's basically when the Romo narrative started. Maybe you heard that Romo went to Cabo during the wild-card weekend. Did it affect the outcome of the Giants' game? Of course not, but the perception machine was rolling, and has been rolling ever since.

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Which coach would you rather have?

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You can track most of the Cowboys' woes to that lost opportunity. If they simply beat the Giants and make the NFC Championship Game, things would be different. Could they have beaten the Packers for a second time at Texas Stadium? It's the best what-if of the Romo era.

In 2008, the Cowboys acted as if they were predestined to not only make the playoffs but win the Super Bowl. Go back and watch the "Hard Knocks" episodes, and you see a team full of itself. They finished 9-7, missed the playoffs and were a mess late in the season.

Phillips could not pull it all together and looked inept as he attempted to deal with the fallout from the Adam "Pacman" Jones' incident. Phillips earned a reprieve in 2009 when Dallas posted an 11-5 record, won the NFC East title, and recorded a playoff win -- but that was the high point.

The Cowboys went 1-7 to start the 2010 season, including an embarrassing home loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars and a gutless loss to the Packers (45-7) the following week. After that game, Jerry Jones made the switch to Garrett, and the Cowboys are 29-27 since and have not made the playoffs.

Garrett did not inherit a team ready to win the way Phillips did in 2007. By the time Garrett took over, the Cowboys were growing old on the offensive line, and there were too many people (especially those in offices at Valley Ranch) who believed they had the best talent in the league.

The head coach of the Cowboys has tremendous sway with Jones. The Cowboys did not take Randy Moss in 1998 at least in part because then-coach Chan Gailey didn't want Moss.

On that premise, the 2008 draft -- with Dallas' two first-round picks -- was a mess because the Cowboys didn't even attempt to re-sign those first-rounders (Felix Jones and Mike Jenkins) when their contracts expired. The 2009 draft was a colossal failure in part because Jones was convinced that it could be a "special-teams draft," which is as ludicrous as the "draft for backups" the team had when Barry Switzer was the coach in 1995.

This is not in defense of Garrett. He has made plenty of mistakes on the field and in the draft.

Phillips has had a tremendous career in the NFL that has spanned decades. He is a terrific coordinator, but is he in the same conversation as guys like Dick LeBeau, or even Monte Kiffin? I'm not sure a Phillips defense scared offenses the way LeBeau's defenses in Pittsburgh and Kiffin's defenses in Tampa Bay did. Phillips was a good head coach but could not get his teams in Denver, Buffalo or Dallas past a certain point.

Phillips knows his resume inside and out. He can cite team stats and all the Hall of Famers he has coached.

He can claim his tweet was more about the number of games he and Garrett have coached, but it looked more like a passive-aggressive shot at the guy who replaced him, and a way for him to remind everybody of his record.

By the way, his winning percentage is .607. Landry had a .605 winning percentage.
In the last 24 hours, Wade Phillips has become interested in his won-loss record with the Dallas Cowboys.

Phillips has spoken to the people through Twitter with these comments:

Then we have this:

And this:

Recently, Phillips said his age, 66, was holding him back from another head coaching job. Phillips is a good coach who achieved some success with the Cowboys in his four seasons. He was the perfect hire for the Cowboys after four hard years with Bill Parcells’ demanding ways.

Parcells, a Hall of Famer with two Super Bowl rings, has a style that grinds on players.

Phillips is more of grandfatherly type of coach whose style is the opposite.

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Garrett, the current head coach, is somewhere between the styles of Parcells and Phillips, which might explain why the Cowboys have been mediocre under his tenure.

Garrett probably needs to grind on the players more, and while there is a healthy respect level for the man, his philosophy is not leading to positive results: meaning playoff appearances.

It was just interesting to see Phillips come out of nowhere to discuss his record with the Cowboys. I remember Jerry Jones saying a few years ago that Phillips never had a honeymoon as the head coach with the Cowboys.

Phillips' reign was always questioned about whether he had command of the team and if the respect was there.

If you look at core group of players, Tony Romo, Jason Witten, DeMarcus Ware and Miles Austin, the most success they obtained was under Phillips.

There was the 2009 playoff win, the two division titles with a No. 1 playoff seed in the NFC in 2007, all under Phillips.

Yet, we had the Pacman Jones suspension, the 44-6 loss at Philadelphia, Terrell Owens’ antics and finally the 1-7 start to the 2010 season, which led to Phillips’ firing.

Maybe Phillips is just being passive aggressive with his Twitter thoughts about what he thinks of Garrett. The current coach of the Cowboys is entering the final year of his contract and there’s no guarantee he’ll receive an extension. (Phillips, by the way, received one extension from Jones).

Maybe Phillips is trying to remind everyone that his time in Dallas brought better results than Garrett’s. At least Phillips got to the postseason.

And in some ways Jones is mindful of this and probably can’t give Garrett the contract extension he wants until he can break the Cowboys cycle of 8-8 seasons.

If Garrett can’t do that, the tenure of the son of the late Bum Phillips will always have been a more successful period in Cowboys history.
IRVING, Texas -- One of the Dallas Cowboys’ homework assignments in the offseason has been to figure out a way to avoid hamstring injuries.

Twelve players suffered strains of varying levels and missed either game or practice time in 2013: Miles Austin, Morris Claiborne, Sean Lee, Justin Durant, Dwayne Harris, Bruce Carter, Danny McCray, Barry Church, Dez Bryant, Lance Dunbar, Gavin Escobar and Terrance Williams.

The shortened offseason conditioning program could play a factor in the increase in injuries, but it has not affected every team. The Cowboys have studied other teams’ approaches and injury numbers to come up with a solution.

Coach Jason Garrett said one possibility is cutting back on the time spent on the field, especially early in the offseason.

“It is valuable to do the football stuff. We don’t feel like there’s a lot of football stuff right now,” Garrett said. “We want to be careful about how much we take away from that. But there’s a couple weeks prior to all that stuff starting. We’ve talked about tweaking the daily schedule and what we’re doing those first couple weeks as we start to lay the foundation for the offseason.”

While many players train on their own before the official offseason program starts in April, there is only a two-week period of training before players get on the field for teaching sessions.

“[Strength and conditioning coach Mike Woicik] I know is certainly not happy with it,” executive vice president Stephen Jones said. “[Athletic trainers] Jim Maurer and Britt Brown0 are not happy. I know Jason’s not happy with it and I damn sure know Jerry [Jones] and I are not happy with it. So we’re looking at ways to try to work on that.”

One way might be doing less instead of more.
Jerry JonesAl Messerschmidt/Getty ImagesJerry Jones has been trying to balance the acts of owner and general manager for 25 years.
IRVING, Texas -- It is never easy to decipher Dallas Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones.

Stories go on and on and sometimes never reach an end. Statements are made to a point, but sometimes there is no conclusion. Proclamations are made that completely counter proclamations made minutes earlier.

It sometimes sounds as if the general manager is talking out loud to the owner as he answers questions.

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Will the Cowboys make the playoffs again with Tony Romo at quarterback?

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For more than a few years, there has been a common thread in talk surrounding the Cowboys: When will Jerry the owner fire Jerry the general manager? It's wasted breath because it will never happen. That doesn't mean you don't ask the question, but you do so knowing the answer.

Listening to Jones on his bus at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis, it was as if GM Jerry sat on one shoulder and Owner Jerry sat on the other. You have the feeling that whoever has the last speech wins.

As is their custom, the Cowboys coaches and scouts have dinner at St. Elmo Steak House in downtown Indianapolis, eating the spicy shrimp cocktail and expensive filets while sipping on the even more expensive Caymus Select wine.

The dinner lasts hours before eventually they leave in drips and drabs.

Jones recounted one discussion he had with his coaches.

"They were telling me about how guys with some experience, they just get it quicker," Jones said. "You don't need to make it complicated. They said how important it is to have free agents on your team. They just come in, and they know what to do where these rookies don't. Well, I'm talking to coaches when I'm listening to that. They want guys that immediately come in and do a better job but yet won't be probably by the end of the year."

That is the answer of a perfectly sound general manager. The GM has to always keep the future in mind. It is never about one season because a team is never one player away. The GM has to know that a draft is never just for the current season but for two, three, maybe four years down the road.

But during the course of the two-hour discussion with local media, Owner Jerry took over for a little bit.

"We need to try everything we got to compete and win next year," Jones said. "We don't have time with Romo, the stage he's at in his career. We don't have time to sit here, build for three or four years from now. And there's the challenge. So if we get it done, I know you guys will say that was a helluva job."

(Read full post)

INDIANAPOLIS -- Jason Garrett has always been an offensive kind of guy.

He played quarterback. He coached quarterbacks. His reputation was made as the Dallas Cowboys' offensive coordinator from 2007-10. He continued to call the plays as head coach from midway through the 2010 season to the end of the 2012 season. With Scott Linehan on the staff in 2014, Garrett is out of the offensive game planning.

Garrett
Garrett
In his make or break year, the former quarterback will spend most of his time with the defense in 2014, according to Jones.

“The thorough indoctrination in that will really advance his cause being the head coach,” Jones said.

Because of his offensive background, Garrett could not give up all of the responsibilities. His trust in Linehan helps make that easier this year, so now he will spend time with Rod Marinelli and Monte Kiffin.

“Jason with Monte and the staff over there that we've got and his capability of understanding anything that we want to put down there, plus … with an offensive perspective on defense, the way he would attack the defense, his focus on defense is going to make him better.”

The transition to walk-around coach that Jones has talked about before with Jimmy Johnson and Bill Parcells would seem to be complete.

“He's the boss,” Jones said. “The deference to him is critical by his coordinators of Monte, so he can have the knowledge, the experience with those guys that he wouldn't get if he were a graduate assistant or if he were one of the assistants. He can sit there and ask the total picture or he can ask the specifics of a picture. This is all predicated that you've got to have an intelligent, capable person to do what I'm talking about. In Jason, we've got it.”

Jerry sees Garrett as long-term coach

February, 24, 2014
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INDIANAPOLIS -- Jason Garrett has a contract that runs out after the 2014 season, but owner and general manager Jerry Jones sees Garrett as the coach in 2015 and beyond.

Jones
Jones
“Jason should know and I know that he knows that the plan here is and has been for him to be long term,” Jones said, “and long term certainly being beyond this year as the coach of the Dallas Cowboys.”

The Cowboys have posted a 29-27 record with Garrett and have finished the last three seasons with 8-8 records, missing the playoffs with Week 17 losses to the New York Giants, Washington Redskins and Philadelphia Eagles.

“It should be a frustration for me to be sitting here with Jason Garrett having been the head coach for three and a half years and having been here (seven) years and be 8-8 the last three years,” Jones said. “So I'm just saying that's a careful evaluation. Does that mean I don't want Jason? I think I want us to have the opportunity and that's why he's staying, to have the opportunity to benefit from this experience over the period of time.”

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Who's been the Cowboys' best first-round draft pick in recent years?

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Garrett isn't the only coach in the final year of his deal. Passing game coordinator Scott Linehan and defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli are signed through 2014. Jones said some coaches have deals past 2014 and beyond.

“There are millions of people that are getting up this morning and walking out and working and if things don't go well for them this year will not be where they want to be next year,” Jones said.

Jones said the incentive is there for Garrett to perform.

“He's got a high tolerance for ambiguity,” Jones said. “He does. That's very important with this situation.”
INDIANAPOLIS -- Jason Garrett’s background has played a role on the composition of his Dallas coaching staff.

Of the coaches brought in after he took the job on a full-time basis in 2011, offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Bill Callahan, running backs coach Gary Brown, secondary coach Jerome Henderson, linebackers coach Matt Eberflus and assistant offensive line coach Frank Pollack did not have a previous association with Garrett.

New passing game coordinator Scott Linehan worked with Garrett for a year with the Miami Dolphins. Derek Dooley got to know Garrett when he was an assistant coach at SMU and worked together for a year with the Dolphins. Garrett spent time with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers where he got to know Rod Marinelli, Monte Kiffin and Rich Bisaccia. Assistant secondary coach Joe Baker was Garrett's teammate at Princeton.

Tight ends coach Mike Pope is the latest assistant in which Garrett dipped into his past.

Garrett was a backup quarterback with the New York Giants when Pope coached their tight ends.

“He’s really as good a coach as I’ve been around in my career,” Garrett said. “I saw him up close and personal with a lot of different guys, established players and young players and he’s a great friend. He’s a great addition to our staff and [Jason Witten] is the kind of guy who’s always trying to get better. Each and every day [Witten] comes in he’s always looking for ways we can help him, how he can help himself become a better football player. That’s why he is the player he is. To add Mike Pope to the mix and having a different perspective on how he gets coaches, I think Witt’s really excited and I know Mike Pope is as well.”

Pope’s main task, however will be to develop Gavin Escobar, but Garrett begs to differ slightly.

“I can go in my office right now and pull out his Saturday night tip sheet for the tight ends for four years with the Giants that I would fall asleep with in my bed that was 25 pages long and in Pope’s handwriting,” Garrett said. “He and I have known each other a long time. He’s a great coach. His track record speaks for itself. He’s worked with different kinds of tight ends, veteran tight ends. He’s worked with young guys, he’s developed guys who were college free agents. The fact that we have an investment in Escobar and have a young guy in James Hanna, we feel those guys will benefit, but Witt’s going to benefit as well.”
INDIANAPOLIS -- Everybody knows the Dallas Cowboys need help on defense.

Just about every mock draft so far has the Cowboys selecting a defensive player, be it Pitt defensive end Aaron Donald or Alabama safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. Or some defensive end. Or defensive tackle. Or maybe a different safety.

Defense, defense, defense.

After allowing the most yards in franchise history and the second-most points in a season, it is not a mystery.

But that doesn’t mean the Cowboys must draft defense in May.

[+] EnlargeAaron Donald
Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY SportsDrafts need and value could line up if defensive lineman Aaron Donald is available when the Cowboys pick in the first round.
“I think you get in a lot of trouble if you focus in on one spot,” Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones said. “You start targeting something and drafting off need, we all know that will get you in trouble. I don’t think it’s to anyone’s surprise that it would be nice to come out of the draft at some point with a defensive front guy, a defensive lineman or two, but I don’t think we’re just going to say, ‘Hey, we’re going to take the first two picks and they’ve got to be defensive linemen.' I feel like you get in trouble that way.”

It is a yearly question around the draft: Take the best player available or draft for need?

The two are always linked. Need can’t be avoided. The draft is the best way to build a team. You have to take need into account when selecting players, but like anything it is about degrees.

Too often teams will elevate certain players at a position knowing they need help.

“Just grade them like you see them,” Minnesota Vikings general manager Rick Spielman said, “then we’ll talk about them and adjust accordingly. Just because we need a defensive end, we’re not going to bump him into Round 1 if he’s a third-round talent. We’ll figure it out.”

In 2006, Chester Taylor ran for 1,216 yards but the Vikings took Adrian Peterson in the first round of the 2007 draft, which was a no-brainer. But in 2011, the Vikings took tight end Kyle Rudolph in the second round even though Visanthe Shiancoe had three straight seasons with at least 40 catches. Rudolph was the MVP of the 2012 Pro Bowl.

The Vikings had Kevin Williams, but drafted Sharrif Floyd (maybe you’re aware the Cowboys had him rated highly only to pass on him at the No. 18 pick) with a nod to 2014 if not 2013.

“We’ve been very cognizant of sticking to what our draft board says,” Spielman said. “That guy you may not need this year, but two years from now or in his second year that guy might be a heckuva player for you.”

The Cowboys have missed the playoffs the past four years. Core players such as Tony Romo, Jason Witten and DeMarcus Ware are on the back ends of their careers. Jason Garrett is in the final year of his contract and needs to win. But the good of the franchise trumps any short-term gain by filling needs.

“I think you’re always trying to accomplish two things: I think you’re trying to bring guys in who can help you now and then help you in the future,” Garrett said. “You want to bring in the right kind of guys in. The way you evaluate players is you want to make sure they have the right physical measurables to play his position at this level so that’s a starting point for you. You also want to make sure they have the right intangible qualities regardless of what their position is, the kind of guys you want to bring to your football team. So that hasn’t changed.”

A draft is not a one-year proposition. The Cowboys are not drafting only with 2014 in mind.

They need defensive linemen, especially if Ware is a salary-cap casualty or if Jason Hatcher leaves in free agency. They need linebackers too with Bruce Carter in the final year of his deal. They need a safety opposite Barry Church. They need cornerback help too because you can never have enough cornerbacks.

But Dez Bryant is entering the final year of his contract and Miles Austin likely won’t be back in 2014, so they need receivers too. Doug Free is in the final year of his contract, so they need a right tackle. DeMarco Murray is entering the final year of his contract, so they need a running back. Romo turns 34 in April, so they need a quarterback.

“There’s a natural deal there and we’ve talked about it with our scouts,” Jones said. “We don’t want to see it. We want the guys to get the grades they should get and not try to start liking a guy just because we may need a position.”

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