LOS ANGELES – When Terrell Owens hasn’t been a Dallas Cowboy for a decade but can still channel some of the deep discontent in the fan base, it’s safe to say the franchise has a long road ahead.
“2 playoff wins in 10 years!! [Jason] Garrett isn’t the answer & NEVER will be!” Owens tweeted at Cowboys owner Jerry Jones.
— Yahoo Sports NFL (@YahooSportsNFL) January 13, 2019
This was the first cut in the coming autopsy of this Cowboys season. And it went straight for the heart. Right at Garrett, whose anticipated contract extension is going to be the talk of the offseason. The hottest topic stoking the hottest tempers, right next to the future of offensive coordinator Scott Linehan and the monster contract extension of quarterback Dak Prescott.
Maybe this is why Jones skipped out on his typical postgame media swarm on Saturday night, embracing retreat in the face of the 30-22 loss to the Los Angeles Rams in the divisional round of the NFC playoffs. Perhaps that was more prudent than stepping out in a fit of emotion and answering some of the many questions that are hanging overhead in the coming months. Because they were coming. If not from Owens, from other directions that are ready to dive right into the tangle of decisions that will determine a significant portion of the next half-decade in Dallas.
Things such as …
Is it wise to give Garrett a lucrative long-term contract extension when (as Owens correctly pointed out), he hasn’t won more than two playoff games in 10 years and never made it beyond the divisional round?
How much longer will Dallas stick with Linehan, whose offense continues to look dated (even on the good days)?
What does Kris Richard need to do to officially earn the defensive coordinator promotion?
Those are three significant questions hanging out there right now, under one overarching umbrella of “What needs to change and when are you actually going to change it?”
And Cowboys fans, well, if they want some change, they might have some reason to worry. Jones has made no secret of his pleasure over Garrett turning the season around. Or that he’d like to have Linehan back next season. Or that he envisions Rod Marinelli sticking around, too, meaning Richard may have to hold off on his coordinator title yet again.
In the late hours of Saturday night, the status quo sure seemed like the theme coming from the coaching staff, which stuck with a message of loving the current team and just needing some seasoning and experience. In some ways, the Cowboys were delivering the typical recitation of most “building” franchises after a second-round playoff loss. Something like: “We know we’ve got the right pieces and this loss can be a good thing in the long run.”
You could hear it when Garrett described the Cowboys as, “A young football team that grew a lot over the course of 16 games and a couple games in the playoffs. I think we’ve learned from our experiences. I think we grew. I think we got tougher. I think we became a more hardened football team. I think a lot of young guys grew up and they grew up together. Those are really positive things we can build on.”
And it echoed again when Richard said of the loss: “It hardens you. It’s a tough game. But what do scars do? Either they wound you and they send you away, or every time you look at a wound, it’s just a reminder how life can’t break you. That’s the mindset right there.”
If you’re a believer of that, then you’re pointing at the Rams team that beat Dallas on Saturday. The one that lost 26-13 to the Atlanta Falcons in the wild-card game that followed the 2017 regular season, then went ballistic in the ensuing offseason in hopes of scaling the rest of the mountain as quickly as possible. You’re saying “look what the Rams did when they hit that wall in 2017.”
If you’re not a believer in that – if you’re in the Owens camp, which wants some major Cowboys changes – then you’re probably remembering that 2017 also featured six (!) playoff teams that didn’t make it back the following year. Teams like Atlanta, which just fired all its coordinators. Or the Jacksonville Jaguars and Carolina Panthers, who may very well be one season away from sweeping out the entire organization. Or the Buffalo Bills, who most people can’t even remember being in last year’s playoffs.
It’s boiled down to this: Dallas had a good season in 2018. The playoff win appears to be a positive step. Some quality pieces have been added, the defense looks young and promising and the quarterback situation appears to be workable. There are things to like. But it doesn’t take Owens’ criticism to see that a lot of questions need to be carefully considered before answering.
Garrett’s nine-year record is worth considering very carefully before an extension that could pay him as much as $8 million to $9 million per season. Linehan’s playbook deserves a deep dive after seeing so many offenses across the NFL aggressively moving to crank up the tempo and spread out defenses. As for the defense, if Richard is basically running the whole thing, then he should probably be given the respect of the title – which actually says something to the players he coaches.
And of course, there’s always the money to consider. If the Cowboys franchise Prescott after the 2019 season, why rush to give him the potentially team-crippling quarterback deal his representation is hoping to land right now? If DeMarcus Lawrence has proven his worth, why give him a second franchise tag, which will invite only strife this offseason? And if guys like Allen Hurns and Terrance Williams and David Irving (or anyone else) aren’t pulling their weight, why devote money, snaps or future consideration to them again?
This is the autopsy that’s coming. And what the Cowboys do with it will likely mean the difference between another step forward or three steps backward. Because the 2018 season is over and it didn’t end where it was supposed to. And it doesn’t take a Terrell Owens cannon shot to know that.
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