The Philadelphia Eagles reached the top of the mountain to win their first Super Bowl title, upsetting the New England Patriots, 41-33. Proving to be tenacious in their approach, the Eagles were written off in early December when star QB and at the time likely MVP, Carson Wentz was lost for the year with a torn ACL. It was hardly the first significant injury for the Eagles. Losing star middle linebacker, Jordan Hicks, All-Pro Left Tackle, Jason Peters, third-down back, Darren Sproles, and several others, the Eagles were seemingly doomed to fade away. “One and done,” most would’ve told you entering the playoffs. This was in spite of the team being the 1 seed in the NFC. Despite this and everything else, Head Coach Doug Pederson and his staff proved themselves both versatile and capable of making significant adjustments on the fly. So why do I bring this up? Because Jason Garrett has been the Head Coach of the Dallas Cowboys for nearly a decade. In that time, he has just one playoff victory to show for it. Doug Pederson, meanwhile, is in year two at Philadelphia.
Also interesting is how Philadelphia built their champion. Ever since the Brandon Carr signing in 2011 to a 5 year, $50.1 million deal. At the time, Cowboys owner, Jerry Jones called it “paying sticker price.” Although Carr was reliable for Dallas, he hardly proved himself to be worthy of such a high cap number, ultimately convincing Jerry and son, Stephen Jones to focus instead on building exclusively through the draft. It’s not a bad strategy really. It makes sense to build your core and sign your own players rather than somebody else’s, but talent evaluation is everything, and when it comes to free agency, Dallas has oddly fallen woefully short in that department under Garrett.
Dallas’ recent free agent signings have been low-priced band-aids rather than true investments, such as Philadelphia’s acquisition of Alshon Jeffery, Torrey Smith, and Jay Ajayi. True, Jeffrey and Ajayi were traded for, but they did sign LeGarrette Blount to a nice contract after New England asked him to take a pay cut in order to return this season. Put simply, the Eagles built their foundation through the draft and then went out and bought the high-end talent to compliment it.
For Dallas, Dak Prescott has two more years on his rookie contract, where he makes peanuts compared to what other franchise QBs make. At the same time, Ezekiel Elliott is also on his rookie deal, albeit a top 5 pick rookie deal. If you’re going to win a Super Bowl, it needs to be now. Look no further than Russell Wilson in Seattle for evidence of this. Sure, the Seahawks have remained a solid team since Wilson signed his massive deal a couple years ago, but the result has been the loss of several key defensive components due to the resulting salary cap limitations. Philadelphia should’ve been in the same boat, but they won it all with their backup QB, Nick Foles -a player Dallas famously didn’t want when then franchise QB, Tony Romo went down with a fractured vertebra in the third preseason game of 2016.
Jason Garrett’s coaching staff showed us in 2015 and 2017 that they cannot make adjustments week to week. Instead, they cling to their normal gameplans, regardless of the personnel available to them. This was made painfully clear in Atlanta when Chaz Green was manhandled to the tune of giving up 5 sacks to a mediocre defensive end. Adjustments were made for the next week, but aside from eventually benching Green, nothing else changed. The Eagles, meanwhile, managed to lock up the number 1 seed after having their heart ripped out when Wentz’s ACL exploded in Los Angeles against the Rams.
For Dallas to take that next step and cash in on their first Super Bowl appearance in more than 20 years, one of three things needs to happen: either Dallas’ key players -all of them- must remain healthy for the duration of the season, as was largely the case in 2016; Jerry and Stephen Jones must re-evaluate their unofficial policy on free agency and take a chance on a couple big names -as Philadelphia did, or, Jason Garrett and his coordinators must go. Okay, that last one feels like a stretch given Jones’ love affair with Garrett and the history of nepotism the head coach has been allowed to enjoy, but still. Changes need to be made to the philosophy of this franchise. There is, of course, a fine line between building completely via free agency and simply letting it fill out your roster where necessary. It’s not always one successfully navigated, but if Dallas is going to get back to that mountaintop where Philadelphia now stands -and the Giants twice before them since the Boys last won a Super Bowl, they’ll need to at least attempt it.