The Cowboys likely will not fire coach Jason Garrett during or after the 2019 season. That’s because team owner and general manager Jerry Jones doesn’t need to fire him. Garrett’s contract is set to expire when Dallas’ season ends.
The lack of a contract extension for the 53-year-old Cowboys coach is the biggest elephant in a room full of them. Jones’ frustration as the Cowboys have limped to a 6-5 record in Garrett’s 10th season as coach seems to be rising to the level of a fan base that appears eager to move on from Garrett. But thanks to the playoff picture, Garrett’s job should be safe through December. Nothing is guaranteed beyond Week 17.
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Garrett joined the Cowboys in 2007 as the offensive coordinator on Wade Phillips’ staff. Garrett added assistant head coach to his title in 2008, and when Phillips was fired halfway through the 2010 season, he assumed the role he has held ever since.
A decade later, Garrett is under the most pressure he has felt during his coaching stint in Dallas. His overall record entering Week 13 of the 2019 season was 83-64, not including a 2-3 mark in five playoff games. Based on what Jones has said about his expectations for the Cowboys this season, they need to reach at least the NFC championship game for Garrett to earn a contract extension.
With that in mind, below are the three factors at play when it comes to whether the Cowboys will part ways with Garrett. Like all things Dallas Cowboys-related, it starts with Jerry.
What Jerry Jones has said about Jason Garrett
The Cowboys owner and GM has mastered the art of claiming to be committed to the head coach while not actually committing to the head coach. His comments before the 2019 season, when Dallas was coming off a divisional playoff loss to eventual NFC-champion Los Angeles, are a good example.
“I think I’ve made clear how I feel about Jason in terms of where he is right now as far as our ability to help us win football games,” Jones said in a radio interview. “I think if you look at what we’ve done over the last few years, you’ll see a pretty good winning record there.
“(But) it’s not enough, not enough.”
Added Jones last summer when asked about the status of Garrett’s contract (more on that later): “There’s no secret that I want (Garrett) to be the head coach of the Dallas Cowboys for as long as I’m around to spell it. Let’s see what’s ahead. I expect us to be a better team (in 2019). I think our personnel supports that. Our experience gained supports that. I am real impressed with the staff that Jason has put together. So I expect us to be better, and as a part of that should result in maybe advancing our record, or if you will, our place in the playoff.
“It should result in that. That’s the assumption you make that if you’re a better team and you’ve put together a sound one that can stay healthy, then you should be able to do better than you did last year.”
So the message — get to the conference title game, or else — was clear. And it’s not an unreasonable expectation. Sporting News, after all, picked the Cowboys to win Super Bowl 54.
Jones basically echoed these thoughts when asked about the status of his coach as the Cowboys jumped out to a 3-0 start in 2019. Things changed when Dallas lost its next three games, including an embarrassing defeat against a previously winless Jets team.
When the Cowboys lost games to the Saints and Vikings, some pointed to Jones’ compliments of New Orleans’ Sean Payton and Minnesota’s Mike Zimmer as passive-aggressive criticism of his own coach. After the Cowboys’ loss to the Patriots in Week 12, Jones abandoned any and all subtlety.
“Special teams is a total reflection of coaching,” Jones said after a blocked punt contributed to Dallas’ loss. “With the makeup of this team, I shouldn’t be this frustrated.”
Added Jones, via the Fort Worth Star Telegram: “It’s frustrating to be reminded of the fundamentals of football and coaching that beat us out there. So, yeah, I’m frustrated.”
The Tuesday after the Patriots game, Jones redirected some of the blame to himself while refusing to let Garrett and his coaching staff off the hook.
“When you’re general manager, which I am, those coaches are out there at my ultimate decision,” Jones said during a radio interview. “It’s very much within my realm of purview, if you will, to not only be standing there as an owner but be standing there as the general manager who put the staff there to begin with. People seem to think it’s particularly harsh to have criticism, and they think when you look at the other side of the field and call a job well done, that might mean that’s extraordinary criticism of the job you’ve done on the other side of the field. At the end of the day, the buck stops with me.
“I am highly critical, and I am continually evaluating the performance of everyone involved with the game.”
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Jason Garrett’s contract extension
Simply put: If Jones wanted Garrett to continue as the Cowboys’ coach regardless of how the 2019 season plays out, the team owner already would have extended the coach’s contract.
In 2015 following his fourth season on the job, Garrett signed a five-year, $30 million contract extension that would keep him in Dallas through 2019. Via Spotrac, below is the breakdown of his base salaries and yearly cash.
|Year||Base salary||Yearly cash (total)|
|2015||$6 million||$6 million ($6 million)|
|2016||$6 million||$6 million ($12 million)|
|2017||$6 million||$6 million ($18 million)|
|2018||$6 million||$6 million ($24 million)|
|2019||$6 million||$6 million ($30 million)|
It’s worth noting this is not an unprecedented situation for Garrett, who also coached the 2014 season under the final year of his contract. Following three straight 8-8 seasons, the Cowboys that year went 12-4 and won the NFC East before they were defeated by the Packers in the divisional round of the postseason. (Yes, that was the Dez Bryant catch game.)
“I do my best work without a net. I really do,” Jones said at this year’s NFL Combine when justifying his decision to let Garrett coach on the last year of his deal once again.
Yet these Cowboys, already with five losses in 2019, will not reach 12-4. Which is why many assume Garrett needs to lead Dallas to a deep playoff run to save his job. He might even be sensing it, as well.
When NFL Media reported last week that Garrett would be a head-coaching candidate for the Giants if the Cowboys were to fire him, Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio speculated Garrett’s camp leaked the info in an effort to maintain leverage. Hey, Jerry, if you let me go, a division rival will want to hire me. Based on what Jones said during a radio interview in October — “He would be a very sought after coach if he were out here in the open market” — the team owner would agree.
Yet this is another example of Jones contradicting himself with his actions; or, in this case, inaction. If Jones thinks Garrett would be such a hot target in the open market, why would he let the coach hit the open market?
When Garrett did hit the market back in 2015, before Jones extended him, there reportedly wasn’t much interest from other teams that had head coach openings.
We’ll find out upon the expiration of Garrett’s contract after this season whether that’ll be the case again.
Jason Garrett’s record: Playoff wins and losses
Garrett’s resume over his 10-year head coaching career in Dallas paints the picture of a good-but-not-great coach who has done just enough to stick around.
Garrett has just one losing season, a 4-12 record in 2015 when injuries to quarterback Tony Romo, among others, derailed the Cowboys. He has produced winning records in five of his nine seasons and .500 records in three.
Below are Garrett’s regular-season wins and losses.
Ultimately, though, Garrett as the coach of the Cowboys is judged by his postseason success or failure. He has a 2-3 record in five playoff games in nine seasons.
Below is a breakdown of the results of those postseason appearances.
|2014||vs. Lions||Wild card||W, 24-20|
|2014||at Packers||Divisional||L, 26-21|
|2016||vs. Packers||Divisional||L, 34-31|
|2018||vs. Seahawks||Wild card||W, 24-22|
|2018||at Rams||Divisional||L, 30-22|
Will the Cowboys fire Jason Garrett?
With Garrett’s contract set to expire at the end of the season, the Cowboys will not fire him as long as they’re in playoff contention. ESPN confirmed that with a Thursday report suggesting Jones won’t fire Garrett before season’s end “no matter what.”
The only scenario in which an in-season firing is plausible is Dallas being eliminated from the postseason before Week 17. If that were to happen, and if Jones decided to move on, he could avoid delaying the inevitable and get a head start on his search for a new coach.
Otherwise, based on rumors surrounding the Cowboys and apparently increased pressure on Garrett, there are two scenarios: Either Dallas will make a run to the NFC title game and Garrett will save his job, or Jones will choose not to extend the coach, and the Cowboys will move on.
Keep in mind the Cowboys head coaching job is one of a few in the NFL that almost any coach would desire. BetOnline already has odds on who will be Dallas’ coach in 2020, and the list includes big-time names like Urban Meyer, Josh McDaniels, Lincoln Riley, Sean Payton, Nick Saban, Dabo Swinney, Jim Harbaugh, Chris Petersen and … Peyton Manning?
Regardless of how many of those would be legitimate candidates for the Cowboys job, the point is Jones would have more than enough options in his search for a coach who can manage something better than a .565 regular-season win percentage and get Dallas to the Super Bowl for the first time since 1995.
Garrett has been good. But good, as Jones put it, is “not enough.”