Now that I have had about a week-and-a-half to cool off after the latest end-of-season crumble by my beloved Dallas Cowboys, I believe I can speak rationally about what the club should do going into next season, and my suggestions will not involve the types of violence that would have been included had I tried to write this last week.
One of the most common thoughts I’ve heard is that the team and coaching staff need to be blown up and rebuilt. This theory has been advanced by “experts” and average fans, and by Cowboys fans and Dallas haters. It may sound like the right thing to do, but the National Football League doesn’t work that way.
Tony Romo has been an obvious target, and considering the fact that the last play he will be remembered for after this season was one of the more pathetic interceptions thrown in quite some time, targeting Romo is expected, and fair. I am pro-Romo overall, but not to the point where I’m 100% all-in and blind to the facts.
When you take the field with Romo as your quarterback, you are signing on for the good and the bad. Romo will single-handedly win games, as he did on several occasions late this season. He will also single-handedly lose games, which he proved quite adept at doing last season, when he gift-wrapped victories for the New York Jets and Detroit Lions. I still think there is more good than bad in Romo. The bad tends to be overly magnified, which is part of the job of being an NFL quarterback in general, much less the quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys.
For those who want to see a change at the quarterback position: I’d love to hear your suggestions. The NFL is not fantasy football. Aaron Rodgers will not be the starting quarterback for the Cowboys next season, nor will Drew Brees, Matt Ryan, Tom Brady (like Dallas needs yet another reason to be universally hated), Peyton Manning, and so on.
Is replacing Romo with a backup with limited NFL experience the answer? Are the Cowboys really better off with, say, Matt Flynn, who had a couple of brilliant outings for the Green Bay Packers, but couldn’t beat out Russell Wilson for the Seattle Seahawks’ starting job? Is the team better off with someone like its current backup, Kyle Orton, who has extensive starting experience, but who played himself into a backup role? Hell, maybe the Cowboys should buy into the hype and go after Tim Tebow, for he shall lead us to the promised land! I would keep Romo over any of these options, without a second thought.
As for the draft, even if the Cowboys are able to swing the type of deal they pulled off last season, in moving up to select Morris Claiborne, are any of the quarterbacks who will be available really game-changers? Scouting and projecting is nowhere near an exact science — think of it this way: JaMarcus Russell was the No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft, and Romo was undrafted — but I just don’t see an Andrew Luck, a Robert Griffin III, or even a Wilson in this draft.
Overall, I see no choice but to proceed with Romo, for at least one more year. I am not a believer in change for the sake of change.
Another popular target, deservedly so, is Head Coach Jason Garrett. The coach is the easiest thing to change. As the cliché says, “You can’t fire all of the players.” And while Garrett do anything anywhere near as foolish as icing his own kicker, like he did to cost the team a game against the Arizona Cardinals last season, there were times when his judgment was questionable, at best, and I had a major issue with his tendency to give up on the running game at the first sign of adversity.
One thing I will say for Garrett is that this team has never lacked effort under his leadership, as it did on numerous occasions when “led” by his predecessor, Wade Phillips. Of course, the argument can be raised that the players should be motivated by their paychecks and the desire to secure their jobs, but sadly, as is the case on most teams in most sports, it doesn’t always work that way.
But I’ll play along: If Garrett is not the head coach next season, who should it be? Will the team really improve if it replaces Garrett with an NFL retread, or a college coach? I don’t believe that’s the solution.
I would have loved to see Sean Payton come back to the Cowboys’ organization, which never should have let him go in the first place, and there was a brief window of hope when his extension with the New Orleans Saints was declared invalid by the league, but Payton is back in the Saints’ fold and off the table.
I would make an exception for Mike Holmgren, but I don’t see any scenario where Holmgren would work for Jerry Jones. Holmgren clearly wants full control of the team, and as long as the Cowboys’ owner fancies himself as a GM, coach, and God knows what else, the two personalities won’t mix. If you need proof of this, recall that another coach who demanded complete control, Bill Parcells, was force-fed Terrell Owens, who he clearly never wanted on the team. Does that sound like complete control to you?
I also thought about Lovie Smith, mainly because the atmosphere around the Cowboys comes off as too relaxed, and it would be nice to have someone come in and put a foot up people’s asses. But Smith has only been marginally more successful than Garrett, and I’m not sure the move would accomplish anything.
Much like Romo, I believe Garrett deserves one more season. If there is no improvement next year, then it’s time for a change.
What should the Cowboys address during the offseason? The absolute top priority has to be the offensive line. The club tried to remedy this issue during the last offseason, by re-signing Doug Free and adding Nate Livings and Mackenzy Bernadeau, but it failed miserably. Free has been an utter and complete disaster, and if he can be cut outright without drastic damage to the salary cap, he should. Everyone else was just plain mediocre, at best. While former No. 1 draft pick Tyron Smith is probably the most talented member of the unit, he is also a penalty machine, and the penalties tend to come at the worst times, absolutely killing momentum. I don’t have any specific names in mind, professional or college, but changes must be made.
Another thing Dallas must do, which is much easier said than done, is try to figure out just how much they can rely on some of the players that have performed well but missed time due to injuries. Sean Lee, Miles Austin, and Demarco Murray are all outstanding football players, but an outstanding football player doesn’t do his team much good when he’s on the bench in street clothes, or, as was the case with Austin this season, trying to play through (admirable) at much less than full strength. Can the Cowboys afford to base their offensive game plans around Murray and their defensive game plans around Lee, only to see the two of them go down again?
As I said, this is far easier said than done. Injuries can’t possibly be predicted, and they are part of the game of football, but it’s frustrating to constantly see the team’s most valuable players out of uniform.
This should be an interesting offseason, to say the least, but the window on this team is closing, and closing quickly. I am not on board with rebuilding now. Rebuilding in football doesn’t really exist. At least when teams try to do so in Major League Baseball, their fans can follow their prospects’ journeys through the minor leagues and retain some hope (see: Kansas City Royals). Football doesn’t work that way. However, if this team doesn’t succeed next year, it might be time for drastic moves.
One more thing before I go: If this current nucleus of Cowboys never wins a Super Bowl, I don’t blame Tony Romo, or Jason Garrett, or DeMarcus Ware, or Jason Witten, or even Wade Phillips. I will tell you who I blame: Patrick FUCKING Crayton.
Patrick Crayton, the former No. 3 wide receiver? Yes, that bum. Why? The week before the Cowboys played the New York Giants in a divisional playoff game, Crayton did nothing but run his mouth. The two teams are divisional rivals, and the Cowboys swept both regular-season meetings. Talking trash accomplishes nothing. Shut up, don’t motivate the Giants any more than they already are, and play the game.
After running his mouth all week, Crayton dropped the pass that would have put the game away for the Cowboys, who, at 13-3, had their best season by far since the Super Bowl years of the early 1990s. A perfectly thrown ball to a wide-open Crayton in the fourth quarter would have, at minimum, resulted in 40 yards, a first down, and two or three more minutes off the clock. Instead, Hands of Stone dropped the ball, the Giants took over, and the rest is history.
Would the Cowboys have won the Super Bowl that year? Not necessarily, but you never know, and, as I said, the 2007 squad was the best in recent years.
So, to the Cowboys: Stay the course, improve the O-line, and let’s give this one more run. And to Patrick Crayton, wherever you are: FUCK YOU.