There are only 16 days every year where the Dallas Cowboys play football. The other 349 days of the year consist of fans waiting until the next game. You wait through the long off season, thinking this is your magical year where the 6th Super Bowl is won for the Dallas Cowboys. You wait all summer for camp to start. You wait all preseason for real games. Then you wait all week for the big game.
But, in 2010, the games have been what we have been waiting through, not waiting for, in hopes of getting to this day. This day, January 3rd, 2011. The first day of the new era of Cowboys football.
Finally, the holding pattern that began somewhere around the Vikings game this season can end. The Cowboys now have a chance to begin to take action.
As we all know, it starts in the next day or two with the head coach "search" and announcement. I have spent plenty of time writing my thoughts on this topic, but the bottom line is we would all be shocked if Jason Garrett is not the next Head Coach of the team. Whether this is the right move or not (and I am fine with it under certain circumstances) doesn't matter. It would shock just about everyone if Jerry Jones doesn't go this direction.
Then, the coaching staff should be examined. This is also a case of what should happen versus what will happen. What should happen is that the Cowboys should likely search for fresh eyes on the defensive coaching staff in an attempt to turn things over a bit and hope to solve some of the fundamental issues that this defense appears to suffer from. Yes, the Cowboys have had success in the past with this group, but when they get to the QB, they cannot get takeaways. When they get takeaways, they cannot get stops, and when they get stops, they cannot get to the QB. The latest evolution is Paul Pasqualoni's squad that can do many things, but when it comes to a crucial 4th Quarter stop they leave you wanting much more. They appear to have pieces to the puzzle, but I would sure like to get a new mastermind to make the defense all make sense. Wade Phillips had 3 1/2 years to sort it out, and in my estimation never got it quite right. Let's look elsewhere to figure this all out.
But, what will happen is the Cowboys will likely stay the course with very few if any coaching staff adjustments of substance and we will proceed with what could be another year of questionable deployment of this 3-4 defense.
Next, on to the Senior Bowl and the annual spring traditions of grading and evaluating all of the available college talent from around the land. The Cowboys pick 9th and 41st in the spring draft, and they obviously need 2 starters who can inject further youth into this squad in a very quick fashion. More on that as we go.
Here comes the very important next phase of the off-season, and this is one that you likely have already made. Saying goodbye to those who have served you well for many seasons, but it is time to churn this roster.
Saying goodbye is never an easy thing to do, because any player who has been with you has played hard and made special moments while wearing a star on their helmet. But, there comes a time when you owe it to your organization to replace age with youth and in doing so, hope to revitalize your team with the next generation.
Names under review are everywhere. Do you keep Roy Williams? Marion Barber? Leonard Davis? Marc Colombo? Andre Gurode? Kyle Kosier? Martellus Bennett? Jon Kitna? And that is just the offense! How about defensively? Keith Brooking? Alan Ball? Gerald Sensabaugh? Igor Olshansky? Marcus Spears - who is a free agent anyway? Of course, David Buehler, too. As you can see, without digging to far, you can name a number of players that are under review.
But the tricky part of player evaluation is obvious; You have to know what is out there to replace these names before you just replace them. For instance, you can take Flozell Adams to the curb if you have Doug Free ready. But, if all that is behind Marc Colombo is Alex Barron (who clearly won't be back) or Sam Young, well, you understand. It is easy to say "cut everybody!", but the reality is that you better be ready to live with what is the alternative.
If you want to replace 10 starters, I must ask how you plan on doing all of that? You have your picks, but the NFL Draft teaches us that you can find starters in the 1st 2 rounds, but after that it becomes very difficult to find immediate help. From a Cowboys perspective, we have found that anything after pick 50 or so is an extreme crap shoot by recent drafts around here.
Free Agency is your other alternative. The Cowboys can and should be active, but after last season when they hardly lifted a finger in March to acquire talent (even though safety was staring them in the face as a major concern) we were left wondering if Jerry is prepared to pony up a large sack of cash for players with all of those bills on his desk from the stadium and fired coaches.
But, after 2010, your waiting is over. The holding pattern has ended. When you have a great year, like 2009, you can move away from the Cowboys for a few months in the spring and reintroduce yourself to your other hobbies or sports. But, this year, you were allowed to have your mind wander a bit during the season because after 1-7, the Cowboys did not have too many games of substance in November and December. In fact, if you want to be harsh, you can say they had no games of relevance after the Colombo celebration penalty in the end zone against Tennessee in Game 4.
Now, the real action starts. The Cowboys have many, many decisions to make. If they get too many wrong, they are doomed to disappoint again in 2011. I am not sure I have much faith in the decision maker, but I have no inventive way to take the decision making away from Jerry, so it is time to hope for the best. Not exactly aiding his cause is the fact that he will be as busy as anyone in the NFL labor negotiations that are the true item of intrigue in the football world.
Is there any way that Jerry Jones can solve the Cowboys problems and have his mind on making sure there even is a NFL season in 2011? Fat chance, right? But, that is why I submit to you that today is the first day of the year.
Those who care about the Dallas Cowboys future - and I cannot imagine anyone reading this column who does not care about that topic - must now channel all of that energy and tension normally earmarked for Cowboys games into this offseason. I don't believe the Cowboys can sleep on one detail if they are to get this right.
And it starts this morning. January 3, 2011. The first day of the new era of Cowboys football. Let's hope it has a little more than the 2010 season.