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Despite Changes, Cowboys Still Built on Jason Garrett’s Foundation in 2020

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.

Jason Garrett, Ezekiel Elliott
Jason Garrett & Ezekiel Elliott

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.

What do you think?

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Jess Haynie

Written by Jess Haynie

Cowboys fan since 1992, blogger since 2011. Bringing you the objectivity of an outside perspective with the passion of a die-hard fan. I love to talk to my readers, so please comment on any article and I'll be sure to respond!

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  1. I think your giving JG way too much credit for those draft picks, Will McClay and the scouting department deserve most of the credit for those selections. JG was an average coach, never inspiring his team to dig deep or confront issues within his staff. Special teams coach should have been fired mid season. JG poor clock management killed this team time and time again! I’m glad his regime is gone somewhere else.

  2. No question, the Cowboys have drafted rather well recently. How much credit should be given to Jason Garrett is debatable, but nonetheless, he should get some degree of credit. Make no mistake, McCarthy is taking over a very good team.

  3. Gonna have to agree with Erick’s spot on assessment. I don’t think Garrett had much say in personnel decisions. One of the reasons he lasted so long, was his willingness to cede alot of power/decision making to J Jones. He was simply in over his head as a head coach. He wasted what were prime yrs for this team and simply did not utilize the abundant talent we had at the time. Absolutely right Erick our special teams coach should have been fired midseason, one of many decisions Garrett whiffed on that might have salvaged our season.

  4. Agree the cowboys aside from a few exceptions have drafted very well the last 10 yrs ((although drafting Taco
    over TJ WATT still hurts). Garrett was Jerry’s “boy” which explains why he stuck with him way too long rather than admit his mistake. Cowboys scouting dept has been a strength of this team in recent yrs, though I doubt Garrett who could barely coach, much less make personnel decisions , was allowed much of a voice in the “WAR ROOM”. That was Jones/mcClay domain.

  5. Garrett has to get credit for the make-up of this team. You can’t just throw the faults on him and not the credit also. Garrett built a quality, talented team and developed a good culture … its just a shame he sucked at developing talent (both on the field and on the sidelines). McClay gets his credit, but no matter how you spin it this all happened under Garrett’s reign.

  6. Again the BUILDING of the team drafts/free agent signings/personnel
    decisions etc didn’t come from Garrett. His job started with developing the team he was given, which he did poorly . As far as the culture goes what culture? One of underachieving and poor coaching moves time and again yr after yr. Garrett was a good/decent guy who represented the team with class all the way but he wasn’t the coach for us.

    • How can you hold a coach accountable for building and developing a team but not have him involved in the drafts/free agent signings/personnel decisions? He most definitely had a had in all of that. As far as culture, he developed a cohesive lockeroom, this team never quit on him, he rid this team of the TO’s, Dez,’s etc and truly filled this team up with “the right kinda guys” (Hardy being an exception!). I agree he was essentially a losing football coach who was over-tenured and failed to develop players (and staff) and that he had to go … but under his leadership, not all was bad.

  7. I agree Ghost the coach SHOULD have a say in building his team in addition to developing it. However I think by sheer force of personality and a meddling tendency Jones handcuffed any meaningful input JG might have had in that area. Jerry was the GM and let it be known that he was the one that made the decisions on personnel. He “bought the groceries ” then expected JG to cook. Ur point is well taken on locker room culture JG by example set high expectations in how players should conduct themselves and should be commended for that. My criticisms of him center around as u said his failure to develop players, not having his team “prepared” to play each week and his poor in game decision making/strategy.

    • Disagree that Jones meddles as much as you indicate. It was Garrett had held on to Linehan too long. It was Garrett who kept Jones from drafting that joke of a QB from A&M. It was the offensive-minded Garrett who beat the table for Elliott over Ramsey. Garrett’s loyalty and respect for the Jones family just gave the appearance of cowing to them, but I don’t believe it was anywhere near to the extent folks like to write about. That story will remain until Jerry doesn’t. If McCarthy wins with this team this year, it will prove that either Jones or Garrett can build a winner. It will take McCarthy to make the winning difference, but this team that everybody thinks is so close is a product of the two people who everyone is saying sucks!

  8. WOW Jones isn’t meddlesome? He may be the most meddlesome owner in the history of sports. Sure ur in the minority with that opinion. Had he not run off Jimmy Johnson we might’ve one couple more super bowls. How many owners are GMs and hold press conferences after the game? No he’s not meddlesome. Wow ok anyways as for Manziel it was Steven Jones that talked him out of that one not Garrett! Elliott has been great for us but I would suggest that RBs are an overrated position and Ramsey is an all world CB at a very important position. I’m not sure how “close ” the cowboys are coming off an 8-8 season. With all the talent they have possessed, they have underachieved and that is on the coach in many ways. I sure hope this team isn’t a product of JG He didn’t build the team Jones/and the scouting dept did. He just did a poor job of coaching the talented team he was given. If we win this yr it will because McCarthy helped us do that rather then hindering unlike JG

    • I’ve never cared for Jones’ “style”. He’s the NFL’s version of George Steinbrenner. His single biggest flaw IMO is his inability to turn away from a microphone. You’re twisting what I said … I never said he didn’t meddle … I said he’s no longer the meddler to the degree that the label has been stuck to him (nor does he mind it). And don’t get me started on Jimmy Johnson, as if he didn’t play a role in that whole affair … his ego is no smaller than Jerry’s! Fact is, neither one of them have accomplished anything since their split. Jimmy is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame because of Jerry’s willingness to bring him into the NFL (he was not on anybody else’s radar), and spend and give him everything he ever asked for. There probably wasn’t a GM alive who would have traded Walker for the players those guys got. Jimmy orchestrated that trade, but Jerry had to believe in him. Once the salary cap was installed and Jimmy moved on, he was given arguably the game’s greatest QB and he couldn’t get back to the Super Bowl.

      You’ve got me digressing, as my point remains that Garrett, even with all his serous flaws, still built a good team and provided a nice stock of youthful talent for this staff. I believe he’s less the pushover to Jones as most … the difference being that he took this job knowing full well how to allow Jerry to be perceived, and unlike the ego-centric Parcells, he was fine with it. Garrett NEVER made the team or the game about himself!

      • I’ll even add that Garrett is now in a good position. I think Daniel Jones will grow under his tutelage. Garrett has been a decent Off. Coord. … probably because he can actually focus on development as oppossed to the overall team aspect. Don’t be surprised when he gets another chance as a Head Coach.

  9. No disrespect meant Ghost. U are obviously knowledgeable about football and the cowboys and u do make many good points. I enjoy debating on the cowboys, but I try to make a point to stay respectful.

  10. Oh believe me JJ is still the most meddlesome owner in the NFL. He still speaks for the Head coach and constantly and inappropriately attempts to cross over from GM to coach which undermines his own HC We’ll see how that goes over with McCarthy. His son has reigned that in a bit, but a leopard doesn’t change it’s colors. His ego wouldn’t allow him to be anything other than what he is. If Jerry Jones had butted out we might’ve won 2-3 more SBs. Jimmy J earned that gig and gave us two super bowls not sure why u try to diminish his impact. But then u credit him with orchestrating the most lopsided and brilliant trade in NFL history and then drafting numerous starters which led to SB wins. Such a strong team that friggin
    B Switzer won with the team he built. U seem to contradict urself alot. Not sure what side of the argument you come down on to be honest. In ur earlier posts u admitted that JG was basically a losing coach who didn’t develop players or coaches, was over tenured and had to go, but then ur subsequent posts were spent trying to build him up! which is it? Not saying he was horrible and I think his heart was in the right place, but his ability to prepare his team and his in game coaching/decision making/strategy was terrible.

  11. BTW u rate JG as only a “decent” offensive c but wouldn’t be surprised if he gets another HC gig huh? I would be shocked if the “Clapper” got any job beyond the one he has

    • I don’t typically post my personal opinion or stance. I post to offer perspective, insight, or concepts. If Dallas wins the Super Bowl this year, you all will say McCarthy was the reason. Yet, he will have done exactly what Switzer did … but in that case you credit Johnson … but in this case, you’ll discredit Garrett. Seems to me you’re all the ones who hop back and forth over the fence.

      Believe what you like, but no need to try to convince me to do the same. I’m comfortable and reasonably confident in my own eyes and understanding.

      I presumed you understood NFL history. Owners love QB-whisperers. If Daniel Jones improves and the Giants win a division title or two in the next 3-4 years, Garrett may very well become a commodity.

      Again, you misunderstand. There is no need to insinuate that I minimize Jimmy’s impact just because I offer that Jerry’s shouldn’t be minimized. They did all of that together, regardless of what you or I want to believe. Eliminate the 5 years they had together here and neither would have a gold jacket in their closet.

  12. Difference being Switzer inherited a super bowl team chock full of hall of famers who were some of the best to ever play their positions. and were still in their prime vs McCarthy inheriting an 8-8 team so not really a good comparison.. I’m a die hard Cowboys fan so I would have been just as happy if JG had won as I would anyone else. I have no particular bias against him, Put it this way I wouldn’t be surprised if JG has success as a OC just don’t think he is built to be a HC and all that comes with it. Think he has already proven that. It’s no slight against him and it happens all the time owners assume an OC will make a good HC and finds out different. Head coach requires completely different skill set. Ur point is well taken regarding Johnson/Jones Collaboration being a successful one. They obviously made a good team as evidenced by the two super bowl wins and numerous playoff appearances. U obviously are well versed in history, football and the cowboys Ghost props to u.

    • Appreciate your posture and willingness to engage in fairness and open-mindedness. Relatively new to this site, but have noted your participation. ::: tip of the cap :::

    • Appreciate your posture and willingness to engage in fairness and open-mindedness. Relatively new to this site, but have noted your participation. ::: tip of the cap :::

      • Can I ask this? Why do you think Garrett has already proven he isn’t capable of being a head coach? Be careful that your answer doesn’t also contradict that you have already stated that he worked for a meddling owner who made all his personnel decisions, etc. Based on all your previous comments, I would debate that Garrett’s time here would be unfairly judged by what you believe has taken place. If your own son took a job and his boss stymied his ability to perform his job, you would tell your son he’s proven he needs to seek another line of work? That’s interesting to me and again, speaks to your ilk playing both sides when convenient.

  13. To be honest I do find myself playing both sides sometimes (devils advocate if u will) if for no other reason but just to elicit dialogue. I could take ur positions and probably make a good argument as well. Not to be contrary but just for fun. As for Garrett I totally get what ur saying about him being perhaps stymied, I’m simply going by what I see as his performance in game. His clock management has often times been poor and he seems to make all the wrong decisions especially during big games. He had allowed the play calling to become extremely predictable and teams just always seemed to know what was coming. As a so called innovative OC he showed a shocking inability to be creative and allowed his team to become more and more risk adverse to the point where he telegraphed everything. I’m not saying he should look for another line of work bur maybe just concentrate on being a great OC. HC requires juggling a lot of balls at one time and making important decisions on the fly. Just a feeling that he was being outcoached on a regular basis. But a class act that represented the cowboys the right way.

    • Good answer, and for what it’s worth I generally agree with that assessment. Further, I don’t think he showed growth in those areas as time progressed. Lastly, I feel a lot of talent was left to wither under his guidance.

      So … given what you said and how I generally agree, perhaps it’s fair to say Linehan received a bad rap here and took the sword for Garrett? I can’t help but wonder if Garrett also stymied Linehan’s decision making and play calling. Over the course of a 10-year tenure, unless Kellen Moore blossoms under McCarthy, the Garrett coaching tree has zero limbs! And if true, Linehan is still paying the price for it. And lastly, if all of that is true, then would Garrett still qualify as “classy”? Things that make you go, hmmmm.

      • Know that there is still a large contingent of folks who still believe Garrett essentially sabotaged Wade Phillips chances here.

  14. What I know is the Cowboys lost several winnable games (many where they favorites) last yr and appeared to come into those games absolutely totally unprepared. They also time and again failed to make in game adjustments in those same games. The players (and by that I mean the entire team) certainly bears some responsibility for that. However it is the coaches job to prepare the team, to make necessary adjustments and put his players in favorable positions as the games unfold. In his familiar robotic style JG just seemed to have a poor feel for the game and how to respond in key moments. The stage just appeared to be too big for him. I noticed and i’m sure a lot of fans noticed last yr there was a big shift in play calling and offensive strategy about midseason. They seemed to go plain vanilla/predictable for some strange reason. That had JG written all over it, and I’m still not sure what that was all about.

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