Between an almost complete overhaul of the coaching staff and the unique issues stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 season feels very different for the Dallas Cowboys. But despite all the change happening this year, the foundation of the team is still very much built on the decisions and influence of former Head Coach Jason Garrett.
This is especially true on offense, Garrett's first love, and the bedrock that is the Cowboys' offensive line and running backs. Still arguably Dallas' greatest strength heading into 2020, no part of the team is a more clear remnant of Jason's presence.
It was 2011, Garrett's first year as head coach, when the Cowboys spent a 1st-round pick on Offensive Tackle Tyron Smith. After taking a year off to whiff on Morris Claiborne, Dallas then used it's next two 1st-rounders to acquire Center Travis Frederick and Guard Zack Martin.
Those three picks were the nucleus for Dallas' best seasons in recent memory. The stalwart offensive line sparked DeMarco Murray's huge year in 2014 and a playoff appearance. It also allowed rookies Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott to have another big season in 2016.
Even today, nine years after Smith was taken, that offensive line is still the steady presence on the roster. Frederick's career was cut short for unfortunate personal reasons, but the Garrett-influenced investment in offensive linemen continues to show with La'el Collins, Connor Williams, and Connor McGovern all part of the mix now.
That same influence is also seen at running back. Dallas probably would've drafted Jalen Ramsey over Ezekiel Elliott in 2016 if not for Jason Garrett's old-school mentality. You can debate what they should have done if you wish, but that's not the point of today's topic.
While the Cowboys boast a fantastic trio of receivers and one of the NFL's most-productive passers in Dak Prescott, it is their running game which opposing defenses still fear most. Whether it's Zeke, Tony Pollard, or Prescott at times, Dallas can chew up yards and move the chains on the ground as well as any team in football.
Don't forget pass protection, either. One of the keys to the Cowboys' passing success is how much time and comfort Dak has in the pocket. Again, that starts up front with these offensive linemen.
Mike McCarthy is now head coach and will get the credit for any progress that Dallas makes as a franchise. If the Cowboys finally get back to the NFC Championship Game or beyond in 2020, the narrative will be that McCarthy pushed the team over the hump and was the missing ingredient; an indirect shot at Jason Garrett.
But make no mistake; this Cowboys team is still bearing lots of marks of Garrett's time as head coach. Its great offensive line and rushing attack were born out of Jason's experience as a player and beliefs as a coach and team builder, and they will still be key characteristics of the offense in 2020.