What Does the Future Hold for Key Cowboys After Another December Collapse?

Brad Gagnon NFL National ColumnistDecember 16, 2013

June 11, 2013; Irving, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett (left) talks with defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin after minicamp at Dallas Cowboys Headquarters. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

To be clear, the Dallas Cowboys haven't collapsed yet. This season is still recoverable. Dallas just has to beat both the slumping Redskins in Week 16 and the Eagles at home in Week 17 in order to make the playoffs, and if Philly loses to Chicago Sunday night, then the 'Boys don't even have to beat Washington. 

But that doesn't mean we can't start looking at how America's Team should react if indeed this December collapse holds up. Dallas has lost back-to-back games to start December, which shouldn't be surprising considering the team's track record in this month during the Tony Romo era.

I don't know how you recover from an embarrassing blowout loss to the Bears and a 23-point second-half choke-job against the Packers, especially considering that both defeats came at the hands of backup quarterbacks. 

If Dallas can't do so, here's what needs to happen...


Head coach Jason Garrett

What should happen: Garrett's coaching reign should end. I don't understand what he has on owner Jerry Jones, but Jones continues to defend his head coach. Dallas' lack of second-half balance Sunday is indefensible. I don't care if Bill Callahan is the play-caller and Tony Romo can check out of certain runs, because Garrett oversees that entire process and is ultimately responsible. 

Look, Garrett did some really nice things with this team after relieving Wade Phillips in 2010. But since then, he's gone 0-for-3 when it comes to finishing off quality seasons. 

In 2011, Dallas entered December with a one-game lead on the Giants. But then it lost four out of five games in December and January, with two particularly crushing defeats coming at the hands of the G-Men and the Cardinals. The Cowboys went 0-2 against the Giants during that stretch, costing them a playoff spot. New York went on to win the Super Bowl.

In 2012, they controlled their own destiny with two weeks remaining. But then they lost in crushing fashion at home to a Saints team that had won just two road games all season and was pretty much lifeless. They also lost a do-or-die game the next week to the Redskins, falling short of the playoffs for the second year in a row.

I know this isn't all on Garrett. Injuries have been a factor, especially on defense, and it's not as though Rob Ryan and Monte Kiffin have been much help. But I don't understand what Jones sees in this guy that everybody else is missing. Time to move on.

What will happen: Well, Jones continues to display an astounding amount of patience with Garrett. For whatever reason, he really believes in him, and he defended that stance after Sunday's loss. We've seen owners do that before, and circumstances can still change. Garrett is far from safe. Still, it appears the odds are strongly in his favor, regardless of what happens in Weeks 16 and 17.


Defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin

What should happen: In defense of Kiffin's defense, that unit has once again been ravaged by injuries. Let's not forget that Sean Lee has been out, DeMarcus Ware hasn't been himself, Bruce Carter is now hurt, Anthony Spencer is MIA, Jay Ratliff is gone and Morris Claiborne has been nowhere to be seen.

However, there's also evidence that Kiffin's scheme just isn't working. Whether it's Brandon Carr looking like a fish out of water with his $50 million contract or the front seven not getting the pressure Kiffin's defense requires, all that matters is that opposing offenses continue to find soft spot after soft spot. 

Most yards allowed in one season in NFL history
YearYards allowedRecord
1. New Orleans Saints201270427-9
2. Dallas Cowboys*201368367-7
3. Baltimore Ravens198167932-14
* Current pace (Pro Football Reference)

The Kiffin hire was a weird one in the first place. Nobody else in the league was really talking about the 73-year-old, and there has to be a reason why few teams still run the Tampa 2. Let's be real: It's sort of a relic in 2013. 

The Cowboys are on pace to give up a league-high 6,836 yards, which would be the second-highest total in NFL history. And now they've been embarrassed in back-to-back weeks by backup quarterbacks. 

"What the heck," Kiffin said after his D gave up 34 second-half points to the Packers Sunday, according to ESPN.com. "It’s not good. It’s not good at all. There are no excuses. We should have won the game. No doubt about it."

It's time for the Cowboys to get proactive and admit that the Kiffin experiment was a gamble that didn't pay off. Regardless of what happens over the next two weeks, the the team has to cut ties and start fresh on D.

What will happen: Jones defended Kiffin quite strongly after last week's debacle in Chicago. The focus wasn't really on the defense after Sunday's game, but I'd imagine he hasn't swayed much in six days. It looks as though the Cowboys are going to stubbornly hold on to Kiffin for at least one more year. 


Quarterback Tony Romo

What should happen: Romo should be on thinner ice, but there's no way you give up on a guy one year after giving him a $108 million contract. It doesn't make sense fiscally or logically.

Romo has not played well this month, though, and the Cowboys should make it clear that just because his contract has six years remaining, that doesn't mean he's locked in as the Dallas quarterback beyond 2014. 

In fact, KD Drummond at Blogging the Boys came up with one hell of a template for how the 'Boys can blow this up and build around a young core quite quickly, and that plan involves cutting ties with Romo after next season. If the Cowboys do indeed collapse again this December and can't completely redeem themselves under Romo in 2014, that might be something to consider.

What will happen: Regardless of what happens between now and Dec. 29, Romo will be the starting quarterback Week 1, 2014.


Wide receiver Dez Bryant

What should happen: Bryant will be entering the final season of his five-year rookie contract in 2014. He has generally delivered on the field, getting better with each passing season, but he's still been somewhat of a nuisance as well. The latest incident involved the 25-year-old wide receiver leaving the field early when the excrement hit the fan Sunday. 

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He's young and certainly isn't the first stud NFL receiver to cause problems off the field, but considering that the Cowboys are already extremely strapped for cap space, they might be better off forcing Bryant to prove himself on and off the field for one more season. 

So don't extend him this year. Let him play for a contract in 2014 and use the franchise tag in the worst-case scenario. 

What will happen: I tend to believe they'll do exactly that, but the fact that they gave Sean Lee a long-term deal one year ahead of time this past offseason could indicate they'll do the same thing with Bryant. The problem is that such a move would definitely make their cap situation worse, either immediately or down the line. 


Wide receiver Miles Austin

What should happen: Austin just isn't the player he used to be and youngsters Terrance Williams and Cole Beasley have proven to be more reliable. 

Highest-paid Cowboys offensive players, 2014 and beyond
PositionAgeAvg. salary
1. Tony RomoQB33$17.1M
2. Miles AustinWR29$7.7M
3. Jason WittenTE31$7.2M

Austin, who turns 30 this offseason and has just 11 catches since Week 1, has nearly $6 million worth of guaranteed money prorated over the next three years. But the Cowboys wouldn't have to swallow all of that accelerated bonus money if they were to release him after June 1. 

That's exactly what should happen. 

What will happen: I do think they'll make the right decision here. It makes no sense to hang onto an injury-plagued 30-year-old when he costs that much and when you have Williams and Beasley to support Bryant. 


Defensive tackle Jason Hatcher

What should happen: This is a tricky one because Hatcher is having a career year right as his contract expires in Dallas. However, he'll turn 32 this summer and the 'Boys don't have a lot of cash to throw around. 

Most sacks by defensive tackles, 2013
1. Jurrell CaseyTitans10.5
2. Muhammad WilkersonJets10.0
3. Jason HatcherCowboys9.0
4. Marcell DareusBills8.0
Pro Football Reference

They've probably learned their lesson regarding the franchise tag based on this year's disappointing experience with Anthony Spencer, but giving a bunch of guaranteed cash to Hatcher based mainly on on one really solid season is quite risky for a team that has a lot of other areas to address. 

I'd absolutely look to re-sign Hatcher, but only if the deal is two or three years and at a reasonable price. Otherwise, sadly, you have to move on. 

What will happen: It seems the Cowboys are well aware that they might lose Hatcher. This is a toss-up, but I'd bet against him being on the roster in 2014.


Cornerback Brandon Carr

What should happen: The second-highest-paid defensive player on the team has been an utter disappointment during his first two years in Dallas, with this season really hurting his rep. Prior to Sunday's game, Carr had given up 765 yards in coverage this year, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), which was the seventh-highest total in the league. He had also missed 13 tackles and had been penalized five times. 

Highest-paid Cowboys defenders, 2014 and beyond
PositionAgeAvg. salary
1. DeMarcus WareDE31$11.1 M
2. Brandon CarrCB27$10.0M
3. Sean LeeLB27$7.0M
4. Orlando ScandrickCB26$4.7M

According to OvertheCap.com, the Cowboys can save about $8 million against the 2014 cap by cutting Carr after June 1. I don't know if that's the best strategy, though, because they'll have already done the necessary work to get under the cap by the start of free agency in March. Cutting him that late in the game just keeps him on the books in 2015 and 2016, so it might not be worth it.

They'd be better off giving him an extra year, maybe after another restructuring, preferably in a new defense and with a new coordinator. They paid him way too handsomely to give up after just two years. 

What will happen: They'll keep him regardless of the circumstances. 


Linebacker Bruce Carter

What should happen: Carter's third season was supposed to be his breakout campaign. But instead, the former second-round pick, has regressed. He's been terrible in coverage and has looked lost against the run, failing to get acclimated to Kiffin's defensive scheme. 

And now he's hurt again, too, which has become a common occurrence during his three-year career in Dallas. 

Still, he'll make less than $1 million in 2014, so the Cowboys might as well keep him around to play for a new deal. 

What will happen: Exactly that.