So, where do the Dallas Cowboys go from here?
Tony Romo was actually very good, going 25-of-35 for 321 yards and a touchdown. He had no interceptions or fumbles and was only sacked once.
The defense could've been better, but they're a young unit showing improvement. This team is 3-5, but they are not a bad team. They're just not a playoff team in 2012, and they will have to make some changes to fix that in 2013.
They're too far behind the eight ball in a very competitive NFC (if they were in the AFC, they'd be in much better shape). Their remaining schedule is also quite scary; it just doesn't bode well for the Cowboys in 2012.
For 2013, some fixes will be in order. Here's a look at five ideas that could get the Cowboys back on track for 2013 and beyond.
If you were to ask me which one to get rid of between head coach Jason Garrett and quarterback Tony Romo, I'd still choose Garrett.
Yes, we know what we get out of Romo (and I will address that later on), but Garrett himself has cost the Cowboys victories in his two-and-a-half seasons at the helm.
His time management leaves much to be desired; it even cost them a very winnable game against a Baltimore Ravens team that was all but ready to concede the game to the Cowboys in Week 6.
His judgement isn't always where it needs to be.
When the Cowboys run the ball, they have a well-balanced offense. The problem with Garrett is he just doesn't run the ball. DeMarco Murray should be attempting an average of 20-plus carries per game.
When he was healthy this year, he only ran the ball 20 times once. Dallas beat the New York Giants that night, as Murray ran for 131 yards.
Murray isn't even Dallas' only rushing threat. Felix Jones has been inconsistent in his time with the Cowboys, and he is averaging 3.6 yards per carry this year. He has 58 carries on the year, and against Atlanta only touched the ball nine times for 39 yards.
The offensive line for the Cowboys has also been atrocious. This is partly due to their coaching as well. Wasn't Garrett supposed to be an offensive mastermind? I haven't seen it yet, and if I can't see it in two-and-a half seasons, it's likely not there.
Jason Garrett isn't Dallas' only problem, but he should be the first one out of town. But someone else should go with him.
Should owner Jones have dismissed general manager Jones for results that hardly evoke memories of the franchise’s glory days?
“Well, I think so, because he was there to dismiss,” Jones said. “I have always worked for myself and you can’t do that. You basically have to straighten that guy out in the mirror when you work for yourself. But certainly, if I’d had the discretion, I’ve done it with coaches and certainly I would have changed a general manager.”
Maybe you can't "fire" yourself if you do work for yourself, but you can bring in someone who can specialize in one field to take some of the workload off of you. This was an opportunity Jones had when he brought in Bill Parcells to coach in 2003, but he remained Cowboys general manager (with Parcells having some say in personnel decisions).
It's an opportunity Jones continues to have if he were to choose to exercise it. Looking at Cowboys' history since Jones purchased the team, they have been at their best when Jones has a head coach with some type of say in personnel (Parcells, Jimmy Johnson).
Their drafts when it has mainly been Jones running the show, however, have been weak, save for their 2012 draft (good, not great).
Jones needs a real general manager. Should the general manager still listen to his suggestions? Yes, Jones is a good football mind, but he's not a great one. He's far better on the business side of things.
Once Jones brings in a real general manager, the Cowboys will be in much better shape.
Payton did tell Fox Sports' Jay Glazer: "I absolutely plan on being a New Orleans Saint" (h/t NFL.com), but that doesn't necessarily guarantee anything.
There's still the chance that New Orleans could decide to move on from Bountygate and clean house, and it's worth noting that Sean Payton lives in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area during the offseason and was the Cowboys offensive coordinator from 2003-2005.
Payton would be a tremendous fit in Dallas. He got 3,000-yard seasons from Quincy Carter, Vinny Testaverde and Drew Bledsoe. Testaverde and Bledsoe were fairly over the hill at the time, while Quincy Carter was Quincy Carter.
He would do great work with Tony Romo, although he wouldn't quite turn him into Drew Brees. He'd also know how to manage the talent on Dallas' offense.
As for the defense, the Cowboys are in pretty good shape with Rob Ryan at the helm.
The chances of the Cowboys luring Payton to Dallas are slim, but it is something to consider.
Since Dallas should replace Garrett regardless of who's available, though, it would be a good idea to hire Rob Ryan as their head coach. To replace Ryan as their defensive coordinator, there should be a suitable candidate available that Rob knows very well, but that depends on what the Jets plan on doing.
I know this sounds crazy because Dez Bryant is a weapon for the Cowboys. When he's on, he's on. But it should be considered for a variety of reasons, and some of them have to do with football.
Let's start with the non-football reasons first: The baggage surrounding Bryant has been a distraction. Not a day-one-type distraction, but it has been a bit problematic in 2012.
From the way Bryant is reported in the press, you would think the Cowboys need a 24-hour babysitter around him in order to make sure he's behaving himself. However, he could be worth a lot if used as a trade chip.
Bryant won't be a free agent until 2015, and for the next two seasons following this one, he has a cap hit of $3.8 million in 2013 and $4.1 million in 2015 (cap information provided by sportrac.com).
Considering the price a team will have to pay him for two more seasons, he would be a very attractive option for any team looking at a wide receiver in free agency who would feel that Kansas City's Dwayne Bowe would be too expensive.
Bryant would likely be worth a second- and third-round pick, or even one first-rounder.
It's a risky trade, but it would provide the closest thing the Cowboys have had to a Herschel Walker trade (only the most important trade in Dallas Cowboys history). Dallas would get productive players for Bryant, assuming the draft picks acquired for him work out.
This is not an attack on Romo. As I stated earlier, if given the choice between getting rid of Jason Garrett and Tony Romo, I'd jettison Garrett. Romo isn't having the best season, but he's still a good quarterback that could keep Dallas in contention for the next few years.
The Cowboys are getting to that time where they should develop a quarterback for Romo to hand the reins off to.
I wouldn't suggest using a first-round pick on Romo's eventual replacement in the 2013 draft. That would cause a bit too much controversy out of the gate.
I was thinking about Dallas drafting Collin Klein in the later rounds, but the better Kansas State plays, the higher Klein moves up. Plus, with the way this season has gone, even if Klein is drafted in the later rounds (like he was projected to prior to the start of the season), it would still be too much of a distraction.
But Dallas should focus on finding Romo's eventual successor. Romo is 32 years old, and he does have his bouts of ineffectiveness. He might need some competition in training camp to push him to another level.
This might not even have to be done in the 2013 draft, but it will be a pressing issue for the Cowboys in the coming years.