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Let’s Examine Cowboys GM, Coach, QB

1268572 Mike Fisher
Mike Fisher is an award-winning newspaper journalist, the author of...
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The Dallas Cowboys must “Do Something,’’ you angrily bellow annually.

“What,’’ I sarcastically reply annually, “demote the GM, make changes in coaching and trade the quarterback?’’
But you know what? As long as we’re spit-balling here in the wake of the Cowboys’ 28-18 season-ending loss in the “NFC East Championship Game’’ at Washington … yeah. What if Dallas made changes at each of the lightning-rod positions on every football team?

What if Dallas demoted the GM, made changes in coaching and gave up on QB Tony Romo?

Let’s start at the top.

Owner Jones could attempt to hire someone like ousted Browns exec Mike Holmgren in some front-office capacity.

The addition of a large football brain at Valley Ranch (even though folks in Cleveland surely do not agree with that evaluation) couldn’t hurt. Jerry Jones has at his disposal (in the form of “unofficial advisors’’) some of the finest living experts in the history of the sport.

Why not give one of them a Valley Ranch office?

Problems: Does Holmgren (or whomever) need a title? Does he need defined power? What has this person done lately to establish that he’s superior to the reigning braintrust? Wouldn’t he simply serve as fall guy if Dallas continues its trend of mediocrity (a franchise record of 141-142 since the 1995 team won the Super Bowl)? And one more unpopular thought: Is Jerry-as-GM – overseeing personnel moves with at least rubber-stamp authority – really this year’s problem? Or, considering the avalanche of Cowboys injuries this season, did the personnel people actually perform a few minor miracles here?

Now to coaching.

Assuming Garrett is safe (in the heat of the post-game locker-room moment, Jones wisely refused to address the matter), “change’’ could still be accomplished. Jason’s Cowboys plate seems overloaded; he’s the head coach, the offensive coordinator, the hands-on supervisor, the play-caller and the de facto personnel boss (that fact is largely unknown to the media or fans, but it is so. And Garrett has a skill for the job.)
Garrett was successful in leading a battered bunch to a second straight win-and-you’re-in Week 17 … and Dallas adjustments made this team somewhat of an offensive force (at least in second halves). His handling of the Jerry Brown/Josh Brent tragedy is leader-of-men stuff. His club plays with effort for him and is increasingly mimicking his philosophies, always a sign that a “culture change’’ is occuring … but 8-8 is 8-8.

So … the Cowboys could get Garrett help by hiring Valley Ranch hero Norv Turner.

Turner was once a Cowboys mentor to Garrett; professor and pupil working together makes a great deal of sense (with Norv booted from San Diego) with the old hand as the in-game play-caller.

Problems: Can Chargers fans stifle the laughter at the notion of St. Norv being an offensive guru after San Diego just finished 31st on offense? Doesn’t Bill Callahan already have the keys to the offensive coordinator office and didn’t he do wonders as the teacher of this rag-tag O-line?

Won’t any coach, RedBall included, balk at the notion of stripped responsibilities?   “I would certainly anticipate the status quo from that standpoint,” Garrett said – but he was talking about his desire to retain play-calling responsibilities, not necessarily potential changes in staffers or in potential changes that may be ordered upon him by his owner.

Who calls the plays next year isn’t up to the coach.

Now to the quarterback.

In every city and on every team in every year, the loss is pinned on the QB. It is the nature of the sport. It is the position every fan notices and feels he knows a little something about. Quarterback is the position where it seems to matter what he eats, how he wears his ballcap and who he dates. (Or are you interested in the romantic leanings of guards Nate Livings and Mackenzy Bernadeau?)

It’s often unfair. As it relates to Tony Romo’s loss-sealing interception at Washington, the scrutiny is not unfair.

In this .500 league – and so often with this quarterback, scrambling to avoid being a .500 QB – it comes down to the last drive and the last throw. There are so many NFL games that are “one-possession games’’ now that the description seems redundant.

Dallas at Washington was a one-possession game.

Romo would end up with a career-tying record 19 picks this year. Three of them would come on this largest stage. One would decide the game.

With Dallas trailing by only three points and possessing plenty of time to mount the comeback, Romo felt pressure and botched a read. His lob toward DeMarco Murray was intercepted by Washington’s Rob Jackson.

Criticism here is not unfair.  “I thought the safe throw was to throw it to DeMarco in the flat on the sideline,” Romo said. “The guy (Jackson) made a play. He did a good job of peeling off as a defensive end, and I wish I had made a different decision at that time. That’s very disappointing. We had done a very good job in the final five to 10 minutes this year to give ourselves a chance to win a lot of football games. …’’

Yes. And they end up winning half of them. In large part because of Romo’s valiant work … and, the record shows, in part, too, because this QB shoulders the burden of making the game-losing throws, too.

Dallas’ decision to extend Romo’s contract this summer has long been considered a foregone one. But – again, spit-balling – it is notable to scan the NFL and see kid QBs piloting previously bad teams to a playoff tournament that the Cowboys will be watching on TV. Wilson in Seattle, Luck in Indy and Griffin in Washington, all rookies. Kaepernick in San Francisco, Dalton in Cincy and Ponder in Minnesota, all second-year guys. That’s half the field … babies, all six of them.

So does a QB have to be 32 (like Romo) to win? Have the rules made the position easier to succeed at more quickly? Is there a reason to continue to ride the Romocoaster – even as he’s proven to be one of the great statistical quarterbacks of all-time, and by the individual numbers a worthy Dallas heir to Staubach and Aikman – when the Cowboys could instead unplug from the huge new contract and seek a bonanza in trade?

Just as I have high regard for the talents of Jones and Garrett, I’ve long thought Romo too valuable to dump. But for argument’s sake … and to take the conversation behind just “Do Something!’’ …

Can you trade Romo and net a draft pick that produces his immediate replacement?

Barkley from USC, Smith from West Virginia, Wilson from Arkansas. The identity doesn’t matter. This is about the concept.

Can you find the next Luck or Griffin? Doubtful. Can you find the next Kaepernick or Wilson? That’s being proven as do-able. And cheap. And in an 8-8 league, aren’t you likely still in the same range you are presently in?

The problem is that “do-able’’ doesn’t mean “easy.’’ The risk in replacing Romo with “The Next Big Thing’’ is the inexact science of it all. Romo gets you to the lip of the cup. Failure to do that is NFL Hell. One franchise alone illustrates the difficulty here, and maybe illustrates the odds against finding someone who is better than Romo: The Jets have three cracks at “The Next Big Thing’’ all on the roster at the same time. And with Sanchez, Tebow and McElroy, they appear to be 0-for-3.

“We have great belief of Tony Romo as our quarterback, Garrett said. “Tony has won a lot of big games for us and (got) us to the point where we can play for the division (title) in Week 17 in consecutive years. We all know that we want to take the next step and Tony is going to be a big part of that going forward. I think you have to understand the whole body of work. … He’s done a lot of great things for this franchise. We’re excited about him being our quarterback.”

The Dallas Cowboys cannot just “Do Something.’’ The options are limited, and the solutions must be specific. But this is a way for us, as observers, to do more than engage in Primal Scream Therapy.

The Cowboys’ self-evaluation process is Job 1 this week. Wise judgment of the work of the GM, the responsibilities of the coach and the value of the quarterback should be central to that process.