Dallas Cowboys: The Offseason Begins

Jason Garrett receives a 5-year, $30 million contract, after winning the NFC East and winning a home playoff game in 2014. Also returning, is defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli. The Dallas Cowboys came up short against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field, ending their season. These contract extensions kick off an interesting offseason with major decisions ahead for the NFC East champions.

Bill Callahan is the offensive coordinator, and offensive line coach. Callahan has gotten some high draft picks to pave the way up front, leading to the main reason for success in Big D. The O-line got as much hype this season as the Seattle Seahawks’ secondary continues to get, so that’s saying something. After all, they contributed to not only keeping DeMarco Murray as healthy as he’s ever been, but to the top of the league in rushing.

Scott Linehan was brought on board last offseason with the title of “passing game coordinator” and “play-caller.” Before his presence, Garrett and Callahan were dialing up pass-heavy game plans, where Tony Romo was prone to turnovers, and they kept missing the postseason. Let’s see, suddenly the Cowboys pound the ball on the ground and limit Romo’s drop backs.

This was all initiated when Garrett was promoted from offensive coordinator to head coach, replacing Wade Phillips in 2011. After spending their first round pick along the O-line in 3 of the past 4 drafts: LT Tyron Smith (2011), C Travis Frederick (2013), and RT Zack Martin (2014).

Garrett played quarterback for 5 NFL teams, 7 total in his profession football career. His longest time with one team was 7 years with the Cowboys, backing up the great Troy Aikman, for over half of the Hall of Famer’s career. That is when everybody refers to the glory days for America’s Team, full of Pro Bowlers, when they captured the Lombardi Trophy 3 times in 4 years (1992, 1993, 1995). The identity back then is similar to these Cowboys that just reached the divisional round of the postseason. Run the ball with stud running back Emmitt Smith, behind an elite O-line, calling play-action for Aikman, featuring a star receiver in Michael Irvin, and Pro Bowl tight end Jay Novacek. In 2014, the players were Tony Romo, DeMarco Murray, Dez Bryant, and Jason Witten. Playing and beating the Detroit Lions was the first playoff appearance and victory since 2009. The last playoff win before that was in 1996, but in between that time frame they lost 5 straight playoff games.

Garrett’s plan has come to fruition. This is what Jerry Jones was counting on when he hand-picked Garrett. He helped to groom Garrett for 3 years before naming him head coach for the last 4 seasons, and extending him for the next handful of years to come. Whether it was Jerry’s sons, Stephen COO) or Jerry Jr. (Executive VP), or the coaching staff mentioned above, Jerry World was built in time for the rebuilding process to be overcome and showcased. This franchise is feeling good after giving the Packers a fight up to the final minutes, where some even debate that they lost in controversial fashion.

Garrett gets rewarded, as does Marinelli, while Linehan and Callehan are getting calls from other teams. The offense being able to wear out defenses on the ground, limiting Romo’s attempts (and turnovers), leading the league in time of possession, all gave the defense a greatly-needed boost. The 2013 Cowboys defense was historically bad, which is why Marinelli was linked to the man he used to work for, Lovie Smith. They coached together in Chicago, you know, back when the Bears had a respectable defense. The staff was ousted after a 10-win season because they missed the playoffs in 2013, after a 7-1 start. Their strategy is simple, a cover-2 that you depend on bending without breaking. They teach their defenders to keep the ball in front of them, to tackle well, and to punch out the football. Word was going around that Marinelli had been thinking about joining the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Good teams get invaded after finding success, from front office personnel, the coaching staff, to the players. I applaud Garrett for being the leader of a playoff team, despite the perception of him being Jerry’s golden boy, dangling on a string. I do however, give the experienced coordinators a lot of credit for getting their jobs done collectively. The defense looked a lot better, you wouldn’t think that they just shifted from the 3-4 to a 4-3 scheme. This is the first time that Murray played in every game, albeit, in the final year of his contract. Romo only attempted 40 or more passes in a game once in 2014, minimizing his interception total to single digits (9). If I’m part of a franchise that is looking for new life, Linehan would already have a voicemail from me.

I don’t see Callahan going anywhere, unless the Oakland Raiders are serious about a second go-around. The Denver Broncos and Cleveland Browns have requested permission to interview both Linehan and Callehan, as both are also former head coaches. Callahan worked with Browns HC Mike Pettine, under Rex Ryan for the New York Jets for a few years, where they won 4 out of 6 playoff games. Still, I don’t see Callahan making a lateral movement from a playoff caliber team to a rebuilding one. In his first season as head coach of the Raiders in 2002, he took them to the Super Bowl (they lost) to face his former boss, Jon Gruden and the Buccaneers.

Murray is believed to be on his way out of Dallas, considering how little cap space they have. As challenging as it may be, even if you have to back-load the contract, they have to try to get Dez Bryant to ink long-term. That would enable them to give Murray the type of deal I believe he’s worth, and that’s the franchise tag. Bryant is rumored to be getting tagged, which would probably mean Murray is as good as gone. If Bryant does commit to the financials that Dallas can afford this offseason, I see Murray coming back for at least next season. The franchise tag for Murray makes sense, but again it hinges on Bryant, because he’s only had one healthy season and his production ranks as the best. It pays the man for running for the rushing crown, and the team avoids the long-term commitment risk based on Murray’s injury history, and the running back position in general. With Romo, he had back surgery last offseason and will be 35 years old next season, father time is ticking at the window to win with this core. Jason Witten will be 33, he’s still an impact player, but how much longer does he want to keep battling for?

I’m not sold on the defensive talent, but I am impressed by the continuity and effort they gave as a unit. The energy was there. Linebacker Sean Lee can’t find luck with his health, and rookie DE DeMarcus Lawrence only played in 7 games. I’m just not sure that I can support a cover-2 defense, especially without a few standouts on that side of the ball. The offense is going to depend on Terrance Williams and Cole Beasley contributing consistently, unless they add another playmaker this offseason. Romo’s thrown double-digit interceptions in 6 of his 9 seasons, so keeps his 2014 momentum going or returns to heart-breaking form.

Another year that Chip Kelly has to infuse the Philadelphia Eagles, you know they’ll be contending to regain the division crown. The New York Giants were far from good, but did you see how good rookie Odell Beckham looked? On the ground, Rashad Jennings was pretty dependable when healthy, and Andre Williams showed his ability to truck-stick. I’m not an Eli Manning guy like Deoin “Prime Time” Sanders, but another year in the system with a rehabilitated Victor Cruz, Big Blue wants back in the picture too. The division won’t be a lock again, where Dallas went 12-4, Philly missed the playoffs at 10-6, while the G-Men and Washington Redskins combined for 10 wins. To Washington’s credit, they have playmakers on both sides of the ball and are tough to beat in division matchups.

You got my major coaching and player predictions already, thoughts on the division heading heading into next season, so I’ll leave you with one more: The Dallas Cowboys will not select an offensive lineman in the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft.