Before the start of Week 17’s slate, Fox pundit Jay Glazer said that Cowboys coach Jason Garrett would need to at least take his team to the Super Bowl to have a shot at retaining his job. Dallas put up a valiant effort Sunday, particularly with a fiery offensive display in a 47-16 win over the hapless Washington Redskins. But as time ticked away in the fourth quarter and cameras more frequently cut to a sullen Garrett in front of the Cowboys bench, the inevitable was apparent. They knew the Eagles were concurrently handling the New York Giants and would be crowned NFC East champions. The 8-8 Cowboys, who lost four of their last six games including a killer to Philadelphia last week, were headed to clear out their lockers for the season and almost certainly bid adieu to Garrett for good after nine and a half seasons.
The Cowboys’ silver lining, their stacked roster, was on full display Sunday in the wasted effort. Among those employed by Dallas are a young quarterback who topped 4,900 yards this season, an elite rusher who topped 1,000 yards, two 1,100-yard receivers, a stout offensive line still in its prime and a top 10 defense. It’s stunning that this team only finished 8-8, especially given they were largely healthy. The playoff-bound Eagles, on the other hand, have been famously ravaged by injuries this season. Coaching was the difference-maker, especially on game day, and Garrett has consistently proven that he is not the person who should be leading Dallas into the next decade.
Who that utopian person may be is not as simple as the sexiest name on the market, or the next Sean McVay or whatever hotshot coach downtrodden teams want to recreate. If Dallas were a normal franchise with a separate owner and separate GM and separate head of player personnel and even a separate team spokesman, who wouldn’t want to sign for the Cowboys experience? These players are largely top-flight and young and play in a division that isn’t hyper-competitive at the moment. How did they go 8-8 again?
Unfortunately, almost everything Cowboys-related continues to be run by 77-year old Jerry Jones. While his son, executive vice president Stephen Jones, has a voice and seems to grasp modern football personnel, the patriarch continues in his role as the general manager. Jones picks the players he believes best fit his coaches’ schemes, not who the coaches tell him best fits. Jones decides if some controversial pariah like Greg Hardy gets to be a Cowboy. Jones holds court for the media after every game, picking apart his likes and dislikes, sharing injury news and other matters reserved for the coach in the other 31 franchises. The recent result of Jones as a general manager has been a scant three playoff appearances in 10 years.
What reputable coach is going to want to work under those smothering conditions?
The Cowboys co-existed with Garrett for nine blah years because he was groomed for the role starting with his days as a back-up quarterback in Dallas. Garrett was in many ways like another son to Jones. He accepted Jones’s unusual power grab, smiling and waving along the way while never having a legitimate opportunity to put his own stamp on the organization. Jones relished the loyalty and was fond enough of Garrett to keep him around for several years, drowning out the NFL zeitgeist who called for his firing year after year.
This year’s head coach candidate pool is not as splashy as recent years when guys like McVay and Kyle Shanahan were quickly poached. Top names include respected former head coaches like Mike McCarthy and Ron Rivera, a bevy of NFL assistants like New England’s Josh McDaniels and San Francisco’s Robert Saleh, as well as college coaches like Baylor’s Matt Rhule and Urban Meyer.
They would all be upgrades over Garrett but only if Jones works in concert with his next coach. He co-existed with the splashy Bill Parcells from 2003-06 but later said in an interview that he only hired Bill to get a stadium built.
Jones has his billion-dollar stadium but at 77 he doesn’t have much time to win a Super Bowl, Despite Jones’s flaws in the power-grabbing department, he does deeply care about football success more than most owners. Perhaps Jones will surprise and make a run at a coach he trusts can immediately deliver a Super Bowl. Sean Payton’s name has been attached to Dallas in the past. Payton recently signed a contract extension but with draft picks and enough cash, anything is possible.
While Payton or any other current coach is a longshot, Jones is going to need a real epiphany to get this team to be the perennial Super Bowl contender it should be. He needs to step down as general manager and either appoint his son or hire an outside voice that doesn’t share his DNA. He needs to give his new coach a real stake and allow them to build a culture and a football side blueprint without Big Brother watching over him. If Jones is unwilling to cede even a little control, he might as well just keep Garrett around for another decade.
Stat of the week
Jameis Winston joins 30-30 club. Winston’s last pass of the season ended in appropriate Winston fashion: he threw a game-ending pick six in overtime. Winston’s latest interception was his 30th, which coincidentally matches his touchdown total this season. His first ever pass with the Bucs five years ago was also a pick six. Remarkably, Winston managed to throw an eye-popping seven pick sixes this season, an NFL record. Even more remarkably, Winston finished with 5,109 passing yards, tops in the league this season and the eighth most in NFL history. The Bucs have a massive decision on their hands this offseason as Winston’s rookie contract is expiring.
MVP of the week
DeVante Parker. Parker put on a stunning display of route running and physicality to get the best of Patriots corner Stephon Gilmore, who is largely considered the NFL’s best at his position. Parker’s eight catches and 136 yards, including a key jump and grab on second and 12 to keep the chains moving with 2:00 left, were key in Miami’s 24-20 stunner over New England.
The loss dropped the Patriots to the 3 seed and their first playoffs without a bye week since 2009. On an acute level, Parker provided a clinic for AFC playoff teams on how to neutralize Gilmore. On a deeper level, Sunday may have changed the trajectory of a Patriots franchise that has dominated the NFL for almost 20 years.
Quote of the week
“Our focus is on hiring an exceptional leader for this football team and we will take a comprehensive approach to this process.” – Jimmy and Dee Haslam following the firing of Freddie Kitchens.
Kitchens was the first coach let go Sunday and this snippet from the Haslams’ statement says it all. The Browns need maturity, not a coach who wears a Pittsburgh Started It tee after an embarrassing melee or makes his quarterback feel like it’s acceptable to yell back at fans as Baker Mayfield did Sunday.
Video of the week
An emotional Philip Rivers poured his heart out after the Chargers 31-21 loss to Kansas City. The 38-year-old is scheduled to be a free agent and has said he’s open to playing for another team.
Elsewhere around the league
• The Carolina Panthers ended their disappointing 2019 campaign with another thud, losing 42-10 to the Saints. But throughout the season and on Sunday, Christian McCaffery continued to be a revelation who is redefining the running back position. His 72 receiving yards put him in the elite 1,000-1,000 club. McCaffrey is just the third rusher to collect over 1,000 yards on the ground and through the air, joining Roger Craig (1985) and Marshall Faulk (1999).
• The Tennessee Titans secured the AFC’s No 6 seed with a 35-14 win over the Houston Texans on the heels of three rushing touchdowns by Derrick Henry. Mike Vrabel will take his Titans to Foxboro to face his former team in next week’s wild-card round. The Titans beat the Patriots in 2018.
• Larry Fitzgerald played in his 250th career game, the most by any wide receiver with one team. Though hardly Fitzgerald’s finest statistical season, the 36-year-old was rejuvenated this year sharing a field with dynamic rookie QB Kyler Murray. But Fitzgerald is an unrestricted free agent in 2020 so we may have played his last game in a Cardinals jersey.
• With some teams playing for nothing in particular and others needing an offensive jump start, Week 17 had quite the array of trick plays. From the Falcons sending RT Ty Sambrailo up the seam for a 35-yd touchdown to Lions QB David Blough catching a touchdown from Danny Amendola after a reverse to Tom Brady finding LB Elandon Roberts for a touchdown, there are some new names to consider for next year’s fantasy rosters.