Man, this is a smart, sober take from Jean-Jacques Taylor on Jason Garrett's role in the Dallas Cowboys' current management structure and decision-making process. Jacques' premise is that past Cowboys teams would have rushed to sign big-name veteran free agents like Charles Woodson, Brian Urlacher and Tyson Clabo, where this year's Cowboys passed on all of them in favor of a continuation of the program they're working to build. And his conclusion is that Garrett, and his philosophy about how to build a team, is the difference:
Say what you will about Garrett -- much of the criticism he receives is warranted -- but he gives this franchise direction. Maybe you don't like the road he's driving down, but at least he's not driving in circles.
Just so you know, these particular decisions don't have anything to do with the Cowboys being tight against the salary cap. They can always find money and salary-cap space when they need it. Nope, this is a definite philosophical change.
The Cowboys, like most teams, finally understand that it's far better for a team's salary cap and long-term development to give draft picks and young players every opportunity to make the team. They provide a cost-effective talent base and help create the salary-cap space for a team to sign a big-money free agent who is in his prime and worth the money.
Garrett is a smart guy. He gets it.
The Cowboys benefit.
This is why I don't rush to join the crowd that assumes Garrett is coaching for his job in 2013. Could a bad season cost him his job? Sure. But it's no sure thing that another 8-8 disappointment or a first-round playoff exit or something like that gets Garrett fired. Firing Garrett at this point would represent a dramatic shift in the plan for Cowboys owner Jerry Jones. While it's easy for everyone to characterize Jones as impulsive and rash, I think there's real evidence that he's tired of changing the plan every couple of years to little result.
Jones likes and admires Garrett. He respects his intelligence. He recently referred to him as the team's "premier asset," and I don't think that was just a phrase he threw out there. The sense you get when you spend time around the Cowboys these days is that they're striving to build a sustainable, long-term, successful program, and that they believe they're making progress. Last season's ending stunk for them, again, and the 8-8 records two years in a row are an easy reason for people to point and say there's no progress. But if you followed Dallas' 2012 season, the positives were unmistakable. Their comeback from where they were in early November, with half their defense on IR, to get themselves into a division title game for the second year in a row was a half-season's worth of evidence of the kind of heart they're so often accused of lacking.
Garrett coached the team through on-field adversity and off-field tragedy with no hint of locker room discord, and while his in-game decision-making is often a worthy target of criticism, the fact that you never near anything about player discontentment with him says a lot. Tony Romo led fourth-quarter comebacks without a running game to lean on, and the fact that he threw three interceptions in a Week 17 road loss to a scorching hot Redskins team shouldn't obscure that completely. Dez Bryant, Jason Hatcher and Anthony Spencer emerged as star-caliber players. The Cowboys, up until that Week 17 loss, had plenty on which to build hopes for the future, and that's what Garrett & Co. will sell to their players this offseason.
This is why I think Garrett is more to Dallas right now than just a coach-on-the-hot-seat. I think Jones views him as a key part of the long-range plan. And I'm not as convinced as a lot of people seem to be that Jones is ready to ditch the current plan for a new one -- no matter what happens this season.