FRISCO, Texas -- At the opening news conference of training camp, Dallas Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones had a succinct answer as to whether coach Jason Garrett entered the 2018 season with his job on the line.
“No,” Jones said. “That’s the best answer I can give and the fairest.”
Signed through 2019, Garrett will enter this season with one of the youngest rosters in the NFL. The average age of the Cowboys is a tick over 25 years old. On Saturday, they cut one of their three 30-year-olds in kicker Dan Bailey, leaving long snapper L.P. Ladouceur and linebacker Sean Lee as the only players older than 30 on the roster.
“You don’t just want to be a young team. You want to be a young, good team,” Garrett said. “And we have some guys who are young and haven’t been tested quite as much, but we feel like they have the stuff. We’re excited about seeing them play and seeing this group come together. We’re embracing the youth of our team.”
Generally, coaches love veteran players because they can help job security. Veteran players know what to do, and that can lead to more wins. Going with the known over the unknown is preferred because, ultimately, wins matter more than development.
Jones would not acknowledge the pressure on Garrett at the training camp news conference because any other answer would have opened up even more questions. With only two playoff appearances and one playoff win in seven full seasons, Garrett's future is among the Cowboys’ biggest storylines as they get ready for the season opener Sunday at the Carolina Panthers.
When Garrett took over full-time in 2011, the Cowboys transitioned from one of the older, more expensive offensive lines in football by releasing Leonard Davis, Andre Gurode and Marc Colombo. They also cut long-time cornerback Terence Newman. After the 2013 season, they parted ways with the franchise leader in sacks, DeMarcus Ware.
Jones lived with three straight 8-8 finishes.
After the 2014 season, the Cowboys opted not to re-sign DeMarco Murray, who set a team record with 1,845 yards and played a major part in the team’s 12-4 finish. In 2016, Garrett opted to stick with then-rookie quarterback Dak Prescott after Tony Romo’s return to health, with the Cowboys holding the best record in the NFC.
Entering this season, the Cowboys cut Dez Bryant, who has the most touchdown catches in team history, and Bailey, who has the most made field goals in team history. They also saw Jason Witten, the franchise leader in games played and receptions, retire.
“We still feel really good about some of the younger players who have been good players for us up to this point,” Garrett said. “You think about the leadership and the production of the guys on our offensive line, our young quarterback [Prescott], our running back [Ezekiel Elliott], those guys have been really good players for us, and they’re not that old. I think you can say some similar things about guys on the defensive side of the ball. So that’s really what you want to be.”
To replace Bryant and Witten, the Cowboys are going with committee approaches. They have one receiver (Allen Hurns) with a 1,000-yard season, and the four tight ends have nine catches among them -- all of them from Geoff Swaim.
“We certainly feel good about what they’ve done in practice and in the preseason games, and we’re excited to see them in real, live action,” Garrett said.
The Cowboys replaced Bailey with Brett Maher, who has not kicked in a regular-season game.
That should lead to a big lump in the throat for any coach. The Cowboys knew what they would get from Bailey, Witten and Bryant, even if it was not the level of play it had been three or four years ago.
“There’s a lot of really positive things about having a young team. As a coaching staff, you really want to coach them hard in every aspect of the game, and typically they respond well,” Garrett said. “They have a lot to learn about the game. Then you want to put them in game situations where they can grow and learn from the experiences, both good and bad. You try to do that with all your players, regardless of what their age is, but having a good, young team with a lot of guys who think alike and are excited about the opportunity to play together, I think that can be energizing for everybody.”
Garrett is embracing the youth, but the Cowboys’ next coach might be the one who reaps the fruits of what Garrett lived through.