Mike Freeman's 10-Point Stance: At Long Last, Change Is in the Air in Dallas

Mike Freeman@@mikefreemanNFLNFL National Lead WriterNovember 27, 2019

Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett watches from the sideline in the second half of an NFL football game against the New England Patriots, Sunday, Nov. 24, 2019, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)
Steven Senne/Associated Press

It looks like Jerry Jones has run out of patience in Dallas, the Browns' playoff hopes aren't dead yet, and the NFL's best coach this season may not be Bill Belichick. All that and more in this week's 10-Point Stance.

    

1. Urban Cowboy

So far, no human can see into the future. But that isn't stopping some NFL coaches and team officials from guessing about the coaching future of the Dallas Cowboys, and when they do, they come up with two related predictions:

First, that it's only a matter of time before current coach Jason Garrett is fired. I don't mean to sound cruel, speculating about someone's employment, but this is the NFL and it's brutal business. Garrett will be fine. He signed a five-year, $30 million deal in 2015, so he's not likely to miss any meals.

Second, there is increasing belief around the league that owner Jerry Jones is focusing on two primary candidates as replacements—former Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer and Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels.

Garrett's job security has been speculated about many times before, and he has always survived. But this time, league sources say, the rumors feel different. Garrett, who's been the head coach in Dallas since midway through the 2010 season, would have to win a Super Bowl to keep his job, according to the sources.

While Jones' stunning comments criticizing the coaching staff after the Cowboys' loss to New England on Sunday certainly caught people's attention, Jones is thought to be itching to make a change not so much because of one game but because he has grown tired of the team's mediocre performances the last few years.

Meyer would be a Jones kind of hire. He's high-profile, known as a football savant, and to Jones he'd bring instant credibility to the job.

He'd also be a risky choice. He's never been a head coach in the NFL, and getting respect from a professional locker room is a vastly different enterprise than getting respect in a college one.

McDaniels would be different, safer in a lot of ways. He's a longtime Patriots assistant, and coaching under Bill Belichick (not to mention coaching Tom Brady) brings a universe of clout. Plus, he's been a head coach in the league before, so he knows the drill to an extent.

Though Meyer and McDaniels are considered the front-runners should Garrett be let go, several front-office officials mentioned three other potential candidates:

Saints head coach Sean Payton. Belichick is the best coach in football. Payton is second. And like Belichick, he's one of the greatest football minds in league history. However, he just signed a five-year contract extension, so he's not going anywhere.

• Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh. He's never leaving Michigan unless he is pushed out.

• San Francisco defensive coordinator Robert Saleh. This is a name to watch, not just with the Cowboys but with every upcoming opening. Saleh is known for his attention to detail (something Garrett isn't known for) and for how much his players respect him.

No matter who is on the Dallas sideline next fall, it appears clear that the Cowboys are headed toward a future that doesn't include Garrett.

Who will replace him? We might know soon. No time machine needed.

Editor's Note: Jones was quoted today by NFL.com saying: "The bottom line is we get graded. I’m in business. I don’t have to win the Super Bowl in business every year. I can come in sixth and have a hell of a year. But in this case, you’ve got to come in first. You’ve got to come in first. So fundamentally, you’ve asked for something that’s a very narrow window to begin with. I want Jason to get it done.”

     

2. More trouble than meets the eye

Butch Dill/Associated Press

By record alone, Garrett does not rate as one of the league's poorer coaches. But his 83-64 mark with the Cowboys belies a lack of creativity that teams need to uplift talent from merely competing each week to something special.

This past Sunday's loss to the Patriots revealed some of those issues (but not all in the ways you may think).

It wasn't solely that Garrett chose to kick a field goal on fourth down with Dallas down by seven late in the game instead of going for it. It also was how wide receiver Amari Cooper was held without a catch the entire game.

It's true that Cooper was being covered extensively by one of the best defensive backs in the game in Stephon Gilmore. He's a faster Willie Brown.

But in the 21st-century NFL, there is no way a receiver of Cooper's abilities should be without a catch, no matter who's covering him. Most good coaches would have found a way to scheme their best receiver open. They'd run them through traffic, set shadow picks or use rub plays.

No matter how good Gilmore is—and he's amazing—he's not Doctor Manhattan. He's not a god.

Football is chess, and Garrett consistently plays slapjack, which is a big reason why the Cowboys are 0-4 this year against teams above .500.

Garrett doesn't make significant adjustments. He doesn't bring unique ideas. He doesn't motivate.

The Cowboys win in spite of Garrett, and that fact may finally be hitting Jones in the face.

    

3. Megatron goes off

Rick Osentoski/Associated Press

Future Hall of Fame receiver Calvin Johnson isn't heard from often, but he pulled back the curtain on some pretty interesting tales from his days in Detroit on Behind the Mask, a consistently compelling podcast hosted by former NFL players Takeo Spikes and Tutan Reyes.

On the pod, Johnson spoke about a 2012 incident when he suffered an apparent head injury. At the time, Johnson spoke publicly about his history of head trauma, which prompted the Lions to ask him to say he misspoke.

According to Johnson, the Lions did more than ask him to change his story. He says the team put out a statement that he didn't write or authorize.

Johnson also told a story of how one-time Lions quarterback Jon Kitna walked out of a team meeting before the 2008 season furious over the direction of the offense. Before leaving the room, Kitna said: "We won't win a damn game if we go into the season with this plan."

Kitna was eventually traded, but he was right: The Lions went 0-16.

Spikes also had plenty to share about his time with the notoriously cheap Bengals, including the fact that the team gave him a used jockstrap at one point.

Tune in. It's definitely worth your time.

    

4. Unlucky 100

ATLANTA, GA - NOVEMBER 24: Jameis Winston #3 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers looks on during the second half of a game against the Atlanta Falcons at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on November 24, 2019 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)
Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

This past week, Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston reached a remarkable milestone. No, it wasn't touchdown passes. Or team wins. It was much uglier: He threw two interceptions, giving him 100 career turnovers.

Congratulations, Jameis!

Winston has been in the NFL since 2015 and has 22 lost fumbles and thrown 78 interceptions. We're not even done with the 2019 season, and he's averaging 20 turnovers a season.

The Buccaneers have been bad over the past few years for a number of reasons, and Winston, though talented, assuredly is a big part of the problem.

That's why no one should be surprised if Tampa moves on from the No. 1 overall draft pick this offseason (as I believe it will). Winston's style of play—his recklessnessisn't sustainable. And despite constant coaching imploring him to be more careful with the football, those lessons clearly have not taken hold.

So, happy centennial, Jameis.

Turnover 101 can't be far behind.

     

5. Takeaway machine

Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

It's difficult to make any definitive statements about this Steelers season given all of the injuries and controversy. But we'd be remiss if we didn't mention defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick, whom the Steelers traded for in September.

Fitzpatrick's fumble recovery last week against the Bengals brought his season takeaway total to eight, which leads the NFL. In just nine games with Pittsburgh, he's already made a significant impact on a young defense that could be one of the league's best in the next two to three years.

Given the team's 6-5 record, he isn't likely to win Defensive Player of the Year honors, but he's a strong candidate.

    

6. On the rebound

Ron Schwane/Associated Press

They probably won't make the playoffs, but things are getting interesting for Cleveland.

After starting the season 2-6, the Browns head into Week 13 having won three straight and have one of the softest remaining schedules with games at Pittsburgh, home vs. the Bengals, at Arizona, home vs. the Ravens and at the Bengals.

It's likely the Browns will Browns up at least one of those games and lose (and the Ravens game may not even require that), but there's a path to make a run.

What's promising for Cleveland is that quarterback Baker Mayfield has just one turnover in his last three games, and the coaching staff is finally figuring out a way to incorporate its fully armed and operational battle station in Odell Beckham Jr.

It sounds almost funny to say...OK, it is funny to say—but the Browns are dangerous.

    

7. Are you not entertained?

This perfectly placed bomb on a flea-flicker by Russell Wilson is the kind of play he's been making all season, in an extraordinary season, in an extraordinary career.

We've gotten so used to these plays that we take them for granted. We shouldn't. And because of them, the Seahawks are a legitimate Super Bowl threat. 

   

8. Captain Clutch

Butch Dill/Associated Press

We know how great Saints quarterback Drew Brees is. What may not be as well-known is that he's become one of the greatest comeback players of all time.

His game-winning drive against Carolina last Sunday was the 50th game-winning drive he's engineered in the fourth quarter or overtime and, as ESPN Stats & Info notes, has him within distance of history:

    

9. Unbreakable

MIAMI GARDENS, FL - AUGUST 22: FOX Sports set up an area at Hard Rock Stadium with logos for Super Bowl LIV in the player tunnel prior to the preseason NFL game between the Miami Dolphins and the Jacksonville Jaguars on August 22, 2019 at Hard Rock Stadiu
Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

As we head into the unofficial football fest that is Thanksgiving weekend, it's instructive to contemplate the almost unbreakable connection between the American people and their professional football.

No matter how much the NFL screws things up or makes wrongheaded decisions, or the game officials get calls wrong, we tune in. We all tune in. We are all football addicts.

An indicator is how fast the NFL sold its Super Bowl ads this year, according to Sports Business Daily's John Ourand. Last Friday, Fox sold the last of its in-game advertisements, the price of which went for at least $5.2 million for a 30-second spot. It was the quickest a network has sold out the game ads in years.

So think about that the next time one of us gasbags is going on about all that's wrong with the game. The NFL has a grip on us. It's not letting go.

We don't want it to.

    

10. Charmed city

BALTIMORE, MD - OCTOBER 13: Head coach John Harbaugh interacts with Lamar Jackson #8 of the Baltimore Ravens prior to playing against the Cincinnati Bengals at M&T Bank Stadium on October 13, 2019 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Dan Kubus/Getty Images)
Dan Kubus/Getty Images

There are a lot of good Coach of the Year candidates: Belichick, Payton and 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan, to name a few.

It's time to start mentioning one more name—the Ravens' John Harbaugh.

No team is playing better football right now. Baltimore's defense is smart, aggressive and speedy. And he's turned Lamar Jackson from a player some thought would never succeed as a quarterback into a Woo Woo Weapon no team can stop.

Harbaugh also did something this season that rarely ever happens: He outcoached Bill Belichick.

All in all, it's one of the best coaching jobs of the year. Maybe the best.

         

Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @mikefreemanNFL.

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