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 globe. 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 can 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.
Despite Changes, Cowboys Offense Still Runs Through Ezekiel Elliott
We've talked a lot this offseason about the changes at Offensive Coordinator and slot receiver, or how Jason Witten's return will impact the tight end position. But while all of these will impact the Dallas Cowboys' offense in 2019, the constant feature remains Running Back Ezekiel Elliott and the rushing attack.
From 2016 to 2018, since the Cowboys drafted Elliott, Dallas has ranked 1st, 3rd, and 10th among NFL teams in "run vs. pass" play calls. That's only logical; you don't spend a fourth-overall pick on a RB and then not make him the featured player in your offense.
Zeke has certainly rewarded Dallas' decision; Elliott has led the league in total rushing two out of three years, and he led in yards-per-game in 2017 while dealing with his suspension.
Leaning on Elliott has been smart business based on his effectiveness, plus the investment in the offensive line over the last several years.
Dallas has now sunk three first-round picks (Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick, Zack Martin), one second (Connor Williams), and now two thirds (Chaz Green and Connor McGovern) on building up their front wall. They've spent a lot of money to keep their All-Pro guys around, plus La'el Collins.
Some would try to paint the run-heavy approach as how the team is trying to hide the weaknesses of Dak Prescott at quarterback. But in 2014, with DeMarco Murray at RB and Tony Romo at QB, the Cowboys were still 3rd in the league in rush vs. pass attempts.
This isn't about Zeke or Dak, or any other specific player. This about a team philosophy that starts at the top with Jason Garrett, and that isn't going to change even with Kellen Moore taking over as the new Offensive Coordinator.
We're all excited to see what new wrinkles comes from getting rid of Scott Linehan. We highly anticipate the development of Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup in the offense, coupled with the addition of Randall Cobb. We're salivating at what Blake Jarwin might become under the tutelage of the great Jason Witten.
Heck, maybe we'll see fullback Jamize Olawale's receiving skills put to more use. Perhaps gadget guys like Tavon Austin or rookie Tony Pollard will be deployed in more creative ways.
And yes, Dak Prescott's growth is another major factor in Dallas' 2019 success. It's especially interesting, and even concerning, as talks are ongoing about his long-term contract.
But make no mistake, this is still the Ezekiel Elliott show. Even if a few more of his carries become receptions in Moore's scheme, Zeke should still get the lion's share of the touches.
That's why this week's news about his incident in Las Vegas is so troubling. It probably won't lead to a suspension, but we saw what happened in 2017 when Elliott was missing for over a third of the season.
While Dallas should be better able to withstand losing Zeke now than it was two years ago, it may still be more than Prescott, Cooper, and the rest could handle. It definitely wouldn't put the Cowboys in good position to compete for a Super Bowl.
In the end, the 2019 will still come down to how well Dallas runs the ball. It's the engine; nothing else matters if the rushing game doesn't set everyone else up for success.
Don't ever take it for granted. This is still Ezekiel Elliott's offense.
What Would a Successful Season Mean for Kellen Moore’s Future?
Out of every chess piece moved by the Dallas Cowboys this offseason, the decision to name 30-year old Kellen Moore might be the most interesting one. Not only that, but it could be the one that makes the biggest impact on the team. After all, the Cowboys are ready to go talent wise.
With Kellen Moore taking up a new role, it's intriguing to imagine what a successful season would mean for his future with the Dallas Cowboys. Truth be told, Moore is in a pretty fortunate position to debut as an offensive coordinator. He'll be driving a unit full of talented players with almost no weak links. Last year, it wasn't the lack of quality players lined up that had the offense struggling throughout the season, but the guy in charge.
At first, the philosophy of not needing a #1 wide receiver clearly blew up on the Cowboys face. The passing game in Dallas needed a spark and they didn't find it until they traded a first rounder for Amari Cooper. Cooper's impact on the team was clear right away as he put on impressive performances on a weekly basis.
But even when Cooper was at his best, the offense still presented relevant struggles. Despite getting more first downs, the Cowboys still had trouble scoring touchdowns when in the red zone and kept leaving points on the field.
Although he's been a controversial conversation among members of Cowboys Nation, there are a few reasons to be excited about what Kellen Moore can bring to the table as a young offensive coordinator. Ever since he declared for the NFL Draft out of Boise State, where he ran a very complex offense on his way to become the QB with most wins in NCAA history, he was seen by many as an extremely smart prospect. Many expected him to have a mediocre career as a player, but saw him as a potential coach down the line.
Now it's his chance to prove the world just how smart he is and his potential as a coach. He will not only be proving it to the Cowboys organization, but all of the NFL and college football teams. Don't forget what NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah mentioned a few months ago.
I've mentioned this before- Kellen Moore is a rising star and he'll be in the mix for HC gigs (CFB or NFL) in the near future. https://t.co/hLjOb4HAUc
With a great group of talent at his disposal, it's fair to imagine Moore having a pretty successful "rookie" season at a major coaching position. If he indeed manages to turn heads with the Dallas Cowboys offense in 2019, what does that mean for his future?
In a league that's turning to the young offensive-minded coaches thanks to guys like Sean McVay, is it possible one team decides to pull the trigger and make him an offer for a head coaching gig? It certainly would seem premature, but it's still a possibility in the NFL, where teams have become increasingly impatient with their coaches.
I definitely wouldn't be surprised if next offseason, we're concerned about another team (college or NFL) trying to snatch Moore off the Cowboys. I insist in pointing out this would be a premature decision if it does happen, since Moore has very little experience, but looking at the trend in the NFL it certainly could happen.
This might be the most important year in Kellen Moore's young career. For now, let's hope he does a good job leading Dak Prescott in his fourth year as a professional player and an offense that has a solid OL and a pretty good set of skill players.
Connor Williams Working as Left Tackle in Cowboys Practice
Second-year guard Connor Williams has been working as the Cowboys' left tackle during practice this week. While this isn't the plan for him in 2019, it does provide a glimpse into potential uses for Williams down the road and how Dallas might handle future offensive line moves.
Using Connor at LT this week has been a matter of necessity. The top players on that depth chart, Tyron Smith and Cameron Fleming, were not participating for other reasons.
With Tyron Smith getting a vet day and Cam Fleming not practicing because of a bruised shin, Connor Williams worked at left tackle Wednesday. He said it was his first left tackle snaps since he was at Texas. He said it felt like riding a bike after a little bit.
Indeed, Williams spent three years at left tackle in college. It was the last position he'd played before being drafted in the second round of the 2018 NFL Draft by Dallas, who immediately moved him to guard.
Connor started 10 of 13 games at guard last season. He played mostly on the left side, starting Weeks 1-9, before getting injured. Xavier Su'a-Filo played well enough in his absence that Williams didn't get the starting job back when he was healthy. However, when Zack Martin had to miss a few games at the end of the year, Connor started a right guard for those two weeks.
When Martin returned for the playoffs, Williams was back as the starting left guard in both postseason games.
Tyron Smith and Cam Fleming will be your starter and backup at left tackle next year. But for 2020 and beyond, Connor Williams' ability to play tackle creates some interesting possibilities.
La'el Collins will be an unrestricted free agent next year. Fleming will still have one year left on his deal and Dallas just spent a third-round pick on the versatile Connor McGovern. Throw in that Williams can play some tackle, and it seems as if they're covering bases for Collins eventual departure.
We could very well see a starting lineup in 2020 with McGovern at LG and Williams at RT. Another possibility is that Fleming starts at RT and Williams stays at guard, but can be moved to tackle if needed.
If nothing else, it's nice to know that Dallas has options. We may never see Connor Williams play a regular season snap at left tackle, but versatility is a great asset. It can greatly increase a player's value, and give his team some leverage and flexibility in roster management.
For the Cowboys, it does make you wonder what the future holds for the offensive line.
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