Mac Engel

Jerry can dismiss Garrett guilt-free

Jason Garrett is the eighth-longest tenured coach in the NFL.
Jason Garrett is the eighth-longest tenured coach in the NFL. Special to the Star-Telegram

Jason Witten laughed at the inane “report” that said he will leave the Cowboys now to become the head football coach of the Tennessee Volunteers. But Jason Garrett didn’t dismiss a different report floating around.

The latest is that there is a growing number of his players who are frustrated with Garrett and his staff during this historic losing streak.

I asked the Cowboys head coach if he puts any stock into the report by Ian Rapport of the NFL Network that said just that.

“I expect a lot of people to be frustrated the last few weeks,” Garrett said Monday morning. “What we emphasize is that frustration is not a positive emotion.”

Why we needed a report saying that anonymous Cowboys players are frustrated with the coaches during this streak is almost as useful as the other “report” that said Witten would leave the Cowboys to take over the Vols.

The first has merit, because it’s obvious, while the other is merely a sad indictment for what is allowed as news.

What Garrett did not say — and neither did the report — is that you can only imagine how frustrated he and his coaches are with their players.

Calling for Garrett to be fired has (again) become a popular narrative after our favorite team strung together three games unlike any other trio in the history of the franchise that has all but ended the Cowboys’ playoff hopes.

We are talking about the NFL Coach of the Year in 2016, whose greatest strength remains that his players play hard for him. There has to be more, and the final month should determine if his boss finally should end The Process.

The 2017 Cowboys are not all on Garrett, because his front office did him no favors, but if this team continues to aimlessly limp home his boss will be easily justified ending The Process. Jerry Jones has stuck with Garrett unlike any other head coach in his reign, and he can feel secure in knowing that firing Garrett would not be a panicked, social-media driven decision.

The last time an NFL owner fired a coach who was named the coach of the year the previous season was, according to Elias Sports Bureau, in 1977. Cleveland Browns owner Art Modell fired former SMU great Forrest Gregg with one game remaining in the season.

Modell, like a certain NFL owner in our fair town, was known to be a bit meddlesome with his on-the-field product.

Garrett has been through this all of this before, and at least Witten, who is the ultimate team leader/good soldier, defends his coach.

“We have confidence in (Garrett) as our head coach,” Witten said. “Nobody in this locker room has quit or (is) tuning out the coaches or anything like that. That’s not the case at all.”

Garrett, who will have three years remaining on his contract at $6 million a season, said his players have and are playing hard. NFL players are professionals who nonetheless quit on the job. Case in point: the 2017 New York Giants.

So if it’s not effort, the alternatives are talent, execution and coaching.

The people who acquire the talent for the Dallas Cowboys are all named Jones, so they are not going to replace themselves. No, in this scenario there is one group that is easily replaced.

Garrett’s ability to last as long as he has is a testament to his ability to work with Jerry; Jerry makes the Cowboys the best and worst head coaching job in the NFL.

Garrett is the eighth-longest tenured head coach in the NFL; six of the seven who have been in their position longer than Garrett have won at least one Super Bowl.

The one guy on the list is, of course, the one who shares the most in common with Garrett: Marvin Lewis of the Cincinnati Bengals. Garrett has won one playoff game in 2014. Lewis has won none.

Do not think it’s a coincidence that the Bengals’ front office is structured much in the same way as the Cowboys: an alliance of genius minds who are making decisions.

This was the same group that built a team that finished 13-3 in 2016 behind a rookie, fourth-round draft pick starting at quarterback. This was the same group that let nearly all of its starting secondary go in the off-season in favor of a bunch of younger, unproven players.

This is the same group that left the middle of the defense thin and vulnerable. Sean Lee is a wonderful player who can’t stay healthy. Jaylon Smith is not ready to replace him. Byron Jones has not developed into a player worthy of a first-round pick.

The same receivers who played so well in ’16 suddenly can’t create any space. The best offensive line in the NFL is suddenly no longer the best offensive line in its own division.

None of these are Garrett’s fault, but they are his problems.

NFL teams lose, but it’s the way the Cowboys are losing that is so troubling: four losses of 20-point margins, and two defeats where the offense scored 30 points. No NFL team, especially this Cowboys team, should lose like this.

The 2017 Cowboys’ season is playing out frighteningly similar to his three-year run of 8-8 records. Each time the team was beset by injury and just barely remained alive for a chance to make the playoffs heading into the final game of the year.

Garrett’s forte has been a team that plays for him, but after eight seasons there has to be more. If there isn’t, there will be nothing inane about Jerry firing his head coach.

Mac Engel: @macengelprof

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