IRVING, Texas — The Dallas Cowboys will open training camp a month from Monday in Oxnard, Calif. Even by this club’s outlandish standards, this has been a remarkably eventful offseason. It started with owner/general manager Jerry Jones vowing to make folks uncomfortable at Valley Ranch. And in some circles, he actually made good on his promise.
With no more OTAs or mandatory minicamps to evaluate (thankfully), here’s my 2013 Cowboys offseason review:
Monte Kiffin’s flying circus
Fair or not, Rob Ryan became the face of the Cowboys’ failure in the aftermath of another 8-8 season. Jerry Jones would’ve preferred to replace him with Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, but he wasn’t available. Jones consulted with his longtime pal Larry Lacewell, the team’s former director of scouting, and decided to hire the architect of the famed “Tampa 2” style defense, Monte Kiffin. The 73-year-old Kiffin bombed in his recent stint with son Lane at USC, but there’s reason to believe he’ll rebound at this level. Cowboys players have been in awe of Kiffin’s passion for the game. Middle linebacker Sean Lee, now playing under his fourth defensive coordinator since joining the Cowboys, said last week that his teammates are already playing much faster in Kiffin’s 4-3 defense. The Cowboys believe this change from the 3-4 will lead to the takeaways that Jason Garrett has coveted since taking over as head coach midway through the 2010 season. The team should also benefit from the arrival of longtime Kiffin associate Rod Marinelli, who’s overseen the Chicago Bears’ D-line the past four seasons. The Vietnam veteran refers to his defensive linemen as “rushmen,” and has a sign in his office that reads, “if you’re not rushing, you’re stealing.” ‘Coach Romo’ prepares to flex his Valley Ranch muscle
If you think production should somehow be related to compensation, you haven’t negotiated a contract with Jerry Jones. Tony Romo received a staggering $55 million in guaranteed money despite throwing three interceptions in a win-or-go-home game against the Redskins. But Jerry also gave Romo several promotions in addition to that huge contract. He wants his quarterback to have more say in the game-planning process, and he also used him as an extra set of eyes for the club’s scouting department. Romo is now second-in-command to Jerry at Valley Ranch. Folks like Garrett and Stephen Jones still have a voice, but they basically report to both Jerry and Romo. As I’ve stated for some time now, this playcalling change wouldn’t have happened without Romo’s approval. Jerry believes that Romo can be more creative without Garrett in his ear, and maybe he’s right. Romo will have more freedom to call his own plays, in part because Bill Callahan hasn’t ever called plays in this style of offense. It will be interesting to watch what happens if Callahan leans more heavily on the running game. Tony could find himself yearning for Jason’s pass-first approach.
Did Jerry accidentally do Jason a favor?
Cowboys deity Jimmy Johnson has tried to talk Jason Garrett into giving up playcalling duties, but he wasn’t getting through. Garrett saw coaches such as Sean Payton and Mike McCarthy win Super Bowls while calling plays and he felt like he could do the same. But it’s well-documented that Garrett has made glaring mistakes in game management. I used to hear folks talk about how Andy Reid got lost in the “fog of war” that occurs during football games. He may have been an offensive genius, but he didn’t always have a good feel for managing the game. If Garrett truly embraces this situation, he can have more impact in every facet of the game. Whether Jerry meant to or not, he may have thrown Garrett a lifeline. But no matter what Jerry says, Garrett will lose his job if the Cowboys don’t qualify for the playoffs. And he probably needs to win a playoff game. Who else is Jerry going to blame? He’s already fired Rob Ryan and running backs coach Skip Peete. Heck, he even ran Jason’s older brother, John, out of town.
The Dez Show continues to earn big ratings
I have a column on Dez Bryant coming this week, so I’ll be somewhat brief. Bryant has only made headlines on the field this offseason, and that’s quite a development. He told me last week that he clicked instantly with new wide receivers coach Derek Dooley. And in the OTAs and minicamp sessions open to the media, Bryant was as dominant as ever. He has a chance to rival Calvin Johnson as the biggest playmaker in the NFL. Surely Callahan can’t screw this up, right? If Miles Austin can return to form, the Cowboys could surpass both the Giants and Eagles in terms of firepower at the receiver position. Rookie Terrance Williams of Baylor fame got off to a slow start in OTAs, but he appeared to turn the corner during the mandatory minicamp. And Bryant has become a mentor to him on the field. That’s another positive development for both players.