FRISCO, Texas -- As the Dallas Cowboys' coaching staff gets ready to coach in the Pro Bowl this week in Orlando, Florida, the chairs in the offensive meeting room are apparently close to being set for 2019.
Scott Linehan is no longer the offensive coordinator after what both sides deemed a “mutual decision,” even while head coach Jason Garrett started last week by saying he did not expect significant changes to the coaching staff and ended it with a statement praising Linehan.
Marc Colombo lost the interim tag on his offensive line coach title and has a new, three-year deal. Speaking to reporters at the Senior Bowl on Tuesday, owner and general manager Jerry Jones confirmed Jon Kitna will be on the staff, but he did not have a title as of yet. Then there’s Kellen Moore, who is a candidate to be the team’s offensive coordinator.
Jones said it's plausible that the changes could come from within with Moore or tight ends coach Doug Nussmeier, who was an offensive coordinator at Alabama, Michigan and Florida. Jones likes Moore and, maybe more importantly, so does quarterback Dak Prescott. Jones said Prescott’s opinion matters “significantly.”
Moore, who was the quarterbacks coach in 2018 after spending three seasons on the Cowboys’ roster, has long been considered a future coach, and multiple sources said a couple of teams approached the Cowboys about interviewing Moore and were denied. He has a tight relationship with Prescott, who trusts him implicitly.
Maybe Moore will be the next big thing when it comes to coaching offense, but in reality, 2019 is shaping up as all about Garrett.
He is entering the final year of his contract and, so far, there have been no rumblings of a contract extension. Garrett said the day after the playoff loss to the Los Angeles Rams that his agent, David Dunn, had not spoken with the Cowboys.
The all-about-Garrett mantra sticks not just because his deal runs out in 2019.
ESPN’s Chris Mortensen reported Garrett is in line to call plays in 2019, a job he held from 2007-10 as the offensive coordinator and then in 2011-12, his first two years as head coach. In 2013, Bill Callahan called plays. Linehan took over in 2014.
Jones would not confirm or deny Garrett's possible playcalling duties on Tuesday. He gave a Jonesian answer when asked saying Garrett’s involvement with the offense could be “more or less” in 2019.
After the 2012 season, Jones wanted Garrett to be what he termed a “walk-around” head coach, not just a head coach for the offense. There were clock-management and game-management issues Jones thought would improve if Garrett did not have the added responsibility as playcaller.
While Garrett had the ability to veto calls or offer suggestions or even demand certain plays, he mostly was deferential to Linehan.
If Garrett indeed becomes the playcaller, then he will have the chance to go down swinging in 2019. As much as Moore might have a bright future and could be a good playcaller, if you were Garrett, would you want to put your future in Moore’s hands?
There seems to be a misconception about Garrett’s ability to call plays.
The Cowboys had terrific talent in Tony Romo, Jason Witten, Terrell Owens, Dez Bryant, Miles Austin, DeMarco Murray, Marion Barber and Pro Bowl offensive linemen in Leonard Davis, Andre Gurode and Flozell Adams for a good stretch of his playcalling run. They never ranked worse than 13th in yards per game and finished in the top half of the league in points per game in every year but 2008. The passing game never ranked outside the top 10.
With Romo, Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, Witten, Austin, Bryant and three Pro Bowl offensive linemen in Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick and Zack Martin for a good portion of the stretch that Callahan and Linehan called plays, the Cowboys ranked better than 13th in yards per game just twice and averaged more than 22.1 points per game twice in five seasons. The passing game never ranked better than 16th.
The Cowboys radically changed their offensive style in 2014 by drafting a third offensive lineman in the first round in Zack Martin, and DeMarco Murray led the NFL in rushing. In 2016, they drafted Elliott with the fourth overall pick, and he has led the NFL in rushing in two of his three seasons.
They have become one of the best running teams in the NFL, but points come out of the passing game and their average per game has gone from 26.3 to 22.1 to 21.2 the past three seasons.
If you’re worried about Garrett getting overwhelmed with the added responsibility, plenty of head coaches call plays, including three of the four coaches who had their teams in the conference championships over the weekend: Sean McVay, Andy Reid and Sean Payton.
Garrett was a first-time head coach in 2011. He is entering his ninth full season as head coach. He should be able to multitask by now. If he can’t, then that’s on him and the Cowboys will look for a new coach after 2019.
Jones has put Garrett in this prove-it scenario before. After the 2013 season, he was coming off three straight 8-8 finishes, losing de facto NFC East championship games to the New York Giants, Washington Redskins and Philadelphia Eagles in Week 17 for three straight years.
Jones made Garrett coach for his future and the Cowboys went 12-4 and lost to the Green Bay Packers in the divisional round of the playoffs in 2014. Four days after that loss, Garrett signed a five-year, $30 million deal.
Two weeks after the loss to the Rams, there has been no extension this time around.
Let Garrett call the plays; give him a fighting chance.