Before the Cowboys' mood-changing victory over Jacksonville last Sunday, there was a lot of discussion of a possible contract extension coming for Head Coach Jason Garrett. The front office shut down those rumors, and they would be wise to keep doing so through the end of Garrett's current deal.
Jason's contract expires at the end of 2019, as do the current deals for Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan and Defensive Coordinator Rod Marinelli. If the 3-3 Cowboys continue at their current middling pace, Jerry Jones should feel no incentive to spare Garrett and his assistants "lame duck" status next year.
In my opinion, the stigma against coaches working on an expiring contract is overrated. Players are asked to do it all the time, and often it spurs them to greater performance than once they're comfortable with their job security.
That's not to say that I think Garrett or anyone on the coaching staff doesn't give max effort. And I understand the notion that players might start tuning a coach out if they feel like he won't be around for long.
But this isn't the NBA, where a player's contract is fully guaranteed and replacement coaches are hanging on trees in colleges and international teams across the glove. NFL players don't have the same leverage or luxury to go rogue.
Let's just consider the three scenarios for Dallas the rest of this year; positive, neutral, and negative. They can go one of these ways in 2018, and two of them would suggest Garrett doesn't need to stick around.
The positive outcome would be the Cowboys building on last week's win and getting back to their 2016 form. If they can win the NFC East and get into the playoffs, that's something that Jason Garrett and the front office and build from.
There will be a lot of dead money coming off the books next year from the contracts of Tony Romo, Dez Bryant, and a few others. Dallas should be able to get new deals worked out for Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, DeMarcus Lawrence, and still have resources to improve the rest of the roster.
But even if 2018 ends positively, why extend Garrett then? Why not see if he can finally have some sustained success the following season, rather than the up-and-down flow of the last few years?
Granted, Jason couldn't help Romo's injury in 2015 or Elliott's suspension last year. Those were major factors in the team's woes those seasons.
But the great coaches in the NFL consistently find ways to overcome adversity. Unfortunately, Garrett's Cowboys have consistently proven unable to do so.
Moving to the neutral, let's say today's 3-3 record leads to an 8-8 finish or even 9-7 without a playoff appearance. Outside of Travis Frederick's absence, what major issue can the team's failings really be blamed on?
Garrett has benefited from some clear issues that derailed his team in some seasons. 2018 doesn't offer the same scapegoat.
Whether the team holds a round .500 this year or struggles the rest of the way, it's hardly the time to commit to a long-term future with Jason Garrett.
I think Jason has some great qualities as a coach. I like the way he handles the media and seems to inspire his players. You can't question that the Cowboys play hard every week, even if they play poorly.
But at some point, Garrett's system has to be held accountable for the lack of success. This is his eighth season as the head coach, not counting the 2010 interim, and the Cowboys have little to show for his time in the big chair.
Even if the team takes a nosedive the rest of 2018, I see no reason to fire Jason Garrett before the offseason. There is no great option waiting in the wings.
That really makes the point, though; you could make a legitimate case for sending Garrett packing this year if the team falters. Given that, why would you begin to consider a contract extension anytime this year, or even next season, until you see some clear signs of improvement?
Even if "lame duck" status isn't ideal, it's not the devil that some make it out to be. Plenty of players, perhaps even the starting quarterback next year, will be facing the same situation. Maybe it will galvanize the team if Dak Prescott and Jason Garrett are both working to save their jobs.
Garrett has already been given more rope by his owner than a lot of NFL coaches have enjoyed through the years. Jerry Jones' loyalty should only go so far, though. Right now, the businessman in Jerry needs to see that investing more into Jason doesn't make sense based on his current data.
I hope that changes. I hope Garrett and the Cowboys are shining by the end of this year. And if things go well enough to finish 2018, then maybe I can live with a new contract for the head coach.
But now is too soon, and the team too shaky, for any contract extensions. It's time to let things play out with Jason Garrett and not make any moves until you have to, for good or bad.
Did DC Rod Marinelli Have Increased Role in Cowboys Loss at Rams?
The Dallas Cowboys Divisional Round loss at the Los Angeles Rams is still fresh on the minds of their players, staff, and front office. So much so that the team had to fan the flames on a Jason Garrett comment expecting Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan to return. Garrett himself walked back this "report" once Stephen Jones noted it's still too early for any coaching staff changes. The focus will remain on Linehan's post until it's removed or the Cowboys OC is retained, but one coordinator the Cowboys now expect to keep is Rod Marinelli on defense.
Marinelli himself disputed the season-long belief that this was likely his last as the Cowboys defensive coordinator. With Passing Game Coordinator Kris Richard not taking any of the three HC positions he interviewed for, Marinelli doesn't have to worry about shuffling his title to accommodate Richard - who called the plays from week one this season anyway.
Rod's title does include his specialty as defensive line coach though, a unit that the Rams dominated with their offensive line to a historic degree. The Rams' season-high 273 rushing yards was provided by both Todd Gurley and C.J. Anderson surpassing 100 yards on the ground, the first time in team history they've had two backs reach this mark in a single playoff game.
Rams HC Sean McVay hardly had to reach into his vaunted 'bag of tricks' to expose the Cowboys defense in a way they hadn't been all year, but there was still an element of brilliance in his offensive game plan. It came out after the game that the Rams picked up on the keys the Dallas defensive linemen used to signal stunts and twists before the snap. While this is nothing more than just great scouting yielding an unforeseen advantage, it's left the Cowboys with more than enough time to ponder what went wrong in the Coliseum.
The Rams offensive line knew what the Cowboys defensive line was going to do before the snap on Saturday. https://t.co/oGo6Eiz4av
The answer to this may be nothing other than the coaching questions the Cowboys are already considering. With Richard's interviews in Tampa Bay, Miami, and New York coming at the beginning of the week leading up to game day, it's possible Marinelli had a larger say in the Cowboys preparation on defense.
It was Marinelli's defense that conceded 412 yards to the Rams in 2017 in a loss at AT&T Stadium. Matching him up with McVay leaves a lot to be desired, while Richard helps bridge this gap - something he was seen desperately trying to do on the sideline with a battered Cowboys defense.
As each day of the offseason passes, a change at either coordinator position becomes less likely in Dallas. On offense, the play caller has more than a season's worth of evidence showing the deficiencies of the Cowboys attack. In a league fueled by recency bias however, Marinelli certainly didn't leave his best performance on the field in Los Angeles.
Somewhere in the middle of this is Jason Garrett, safely in place as the head coach that should be personally trying to upgrade his top two assistants however possible. Marinelli signing up for another year makes this hard on defense, though Richard should resume play calling duties next season.
Again, this leaves the onus of the Cowboys improvements for 2019 on the offensive side of the ball, something that'll be realized when the shock of their defense letting them down in the biggest game of the season is gone.
Cowboys Getting Over $30 Million Cap Space from Expiring Dead Money
You may have already heard that the Dallas Cowboys will be flush with salary cap space in 2019, and that's very accurate. A huge portion of it comes from over $30 million in expiring cap penalties, otherwise known as "dead money."
Quick explanation; dead money occurs when a player is released or retires prior to the expiration of their contract. Any guaranteed money, such as the original signing bonus or money converted in a restructuring, that has not yet been paid out according to the contract schedule is accelerated.
For example, when Tony Romo retired after 2016, he still had $19.6 million in guaranteed money owed to him. Dallas chose to split this dead money over two years, and thus had a $10.7 cap penalty in 2017 and $8.9 million last season.
But now Romo's dead money, along with Dez Bryant's and several other players, is coming off the Cowboys' books. The result is a roughly $30 million infusion of salary cap space for 2019.
Here were the major culprits for last year's dead money:
(All cap figures are taken from Spotrac.com)
- QB Tony Romo - $8.9 million
- WR Dez Bryant - $8 million
- DT Cedric Thornton - $2.5 million
- CB Orlando Scandrick - $2.3 million
- CB Nolan Carroll - $2 million
- WR Deonte Thompson - $1.8 million
- DE Benson Mayowa - $1.1 million
- K Dan Bailey - $800 thousand
- TE James Hanna - $750 thousand
Those players alone make up a little over $28 million. Another $4 million or so came from over 30 players with lesser penalties that still added up.
Right now, the Cowboys have only $1.76 million in dead money on their 2019 salary cap. Nearly all of that is the $1.6 million still owed to Orlando Scandrick.
That difference is where the cap space comes from, and it will be of tremendous help to Dallas as they have major financial moves coming. They need to re-sign DeMarcus Lawrence, deal with a major salary bump for Amari Cooper, and consider a contract extension for Dak Prescott.
The 2019 number will change, of course, as the offseason rolls on. If Dallas elects to release players like Sean Lee, Tyrone Crawford, or others, some dead money will appear. But that will be offset by whatever cap savings motivated the move in the first place.
This is a good reminder of why the Cowboys' new era of fiscal conservatism is a good thing. After years of what felt like perpetual "salary cap hell," they are finally getting out from under those penalties and have complete flexibility this offseason. They may not even need to cut a guy like Crawford, who they almost would have been forced to in past seasons.
We'll be talking a lot more about individual players and their contracts in the weeks ahead, but this summary helps us see that Dallas isn't nearly up against the financial wall as they have been. We still miss guys like Romo and Dez, but we won't miss that awful dead money in 2019.
Cowboys Expect C Travis Frederick Back for Offseason Program
Lost in yesterday's hoopla over Scott Linehan's return was a positive report about Center Travis Frederick. In his comments to the media, Jason Garrett said that Frederick's recovery timetable should allow him to a full participant in the team's offseason program.
After never missing a start in his first five years, Travis missed all of 2018 dealing with the effects of Guillain-Barré Syndrome. The disease attacked his neurological system and required immediate and intensive treatment.
Jason Garrett says the team anticipates Travis Frederick being involved in the offseason program right from the start this spring if he continues on the same positive track in recovery from Guillain-Barré syndrome. #cowboyswire
While Joe Looney performed admirably in Frederick's absence, he's not an elite talent. Travis has been arguably the best center in the NFL since entering the league in 2013.
It's hard to qualify what effect not having Frederick had on the Cowboys offense in 2018. Ezekiel Elliott still led the league in rushing, but short-yardage plays weren't as automatic as we've seen in past years. A 4th-and-1 stuff was part of what led to the Cowboys' loss this past Saturday.
Dak Prescott was the second-most sacked QB in the NFL in 2018. After being sacked just 25 and 32 times in his first two seasons, the number skyrocketed to 56 sacks.
That's not all on Frederick, of course. Tyron Smith had some health issues and there were was turnover at left guard.
But having your All-Pro veteran center out there to help with the pre-snap reads, and help the rookie guard on his left, might have helped avoid some of those issues.
Indeed, Travis Frederick's return is just one of many reasons for optimism with the 2019 season. One of the best players on the team, he was sorely missed this year and can only help as Dallas looks to build on their division title and playoff appearance.
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