Jason Garrett has been criticized for a lot of things during his seven-plus years as coach of the Dallas Football Cowboys, as he likes to say.
He’s a clapper.
He talks too much about the process.
Game management has often left a lot to be desired.
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But give Garrett for one thing: he has never been afraid to make the tough decision on starting spots and roster decisions.
And while he sounds a lot like Texas coach Tom Herman on play-calling when he talks about the roster decisions being a collaborative effort with the front office, many of the moves often have Garrett’s fingerprints all over them.
The departures of Andre Gurode, Marc Colombo, Leonard Davis and Roy Williams before the 2011 season were Garrett moves.
That signaled a changing of the guard in the franchise and led to the revamping of the offensive line and the foundation of the team’s recent success.
The second turning point came in 2016 when Garrett basically chose rookie quarterback Dak Prescott over a healthy Tony Romo late in the season.
And now we are at the breaking point of the Garrett tenure with the release of Dez Bryant in the off-season and kicker Dan Bailey on Saturday.
Much has been said over the years about owner Jerry Jones’ meddling and him making roster moves over the head of his so-called puppet coaches.
What’s also true is that Jones listens to his coaches and the roster often reflects what they want.
Obviously, there is some fudge (Terrell Owens-Bill Parcells) in there but Jones does listen more often than not.
Remember, Chan Gailey is the biggest reason the Cowboys didn’t draft Hall of Fame receiver Randy Moss and he was also accused of being a puppet.
More to the point, few players if any have made the Cowboys roster since 2011 that Garrett did not want. And likewise, few players if any were released that he didn’t give tacit approval to the move — save for free agent and pure financial decisions.
If truth be told, Jones not only had a history of holding on to guys too long but also allowing his feelings for a player and their history with a team cloud his judgment.
Under Garrett, the Cowboys have made tough personnel decisions for the best interest of the team, absent emotion.
“Line one is always what’s in the best interest of the entire Dallas Cowboys football team,” Garrett said. “The motivation is we’re doing what’s best for the entire Dallas Cowboys football team and that will always be the No. 1 factor in making these kinds of decisions.”
What Garrett is also saying is these decisions are made in the best interest of the Cowboys to put a winner on the field now and in the future.
That’s why Garrett’s tenure is now truly at a crossroads following the most recent moves.
Not only did the Cowboys say goodbye to Bryant (the team’s all-time leader in touchdown catches) and Bailey (the team’s all-time leader in field goals), but they also lost tight end Jason Witten (the team’s all-time leader in receptions) to retirement, leaving huge voids in production and leadership.
The Cowboys have the third youngest team in the NFL with an average age of 25.4.
But Garrett said the Cowboys are embracing the youth on a team he believes he can win, led by quarterback Dak Prescott, running back Ezekiel Elliott, a strong offensive line and a rising defense, led by Pro Bowl defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence.
“We still feel really good about some of the younger players who have been good players for us up to this point,” Garrett said. “You think about the leadership and the production of the guys on our offensive line, our young quarterback, our running back, those guys have been really good players for us and they’re not that old. I think you can say some similar things about guys on the defensive side of the ball. So that’s really what you want to be. You don’t just want to be a young team. You want to be a young good team.
“And we have some guys who are young and haven’t been tested quite as much. But we feel like they have the stuff. We’re excited about seeing them play and seeing this group come together. We’re embracing the youth of our team.”
Embrace the youth but also know that the building for the future is over.
This is the team Garrett chose and the one he must win with if he hopes to be around in 2019.
While Jones said during the opening pressure of training camp that Garrett wasn’t on the hot seat, he also told USA Today later that day that as much as he likes Garrett he wasn’t always going to be in the family photo.
Garrett has just two trips to the playoffs and just one postseason win on his ledger.
If the young Cowboys don’t make a run this season, Jones will be the one making a tough decision in the best interest of the franchise.
Unemotionally, of course.