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Dallas Cowboys' new plan: Is Jason Garrett on borrowed time?

The Dallas Cowboys' offseason has completely lacked sizzle -- and this is a wonderful development. No splashy news is refreshingly good news in Big D. Dallas cut signature veterans, reshaped the defense and opted against drafting a larger-than-life rookie whose mere presence would've been a big hit at the box office -- and an even bigger headache for the team's star player (among others).

This relative offseason silence is a thing of beauty. The 'Boys are actually exhibiting a logical, football-related plan. But it likely won't be enough to save Jason Garrett's job. And it shouldn't be. This begs a simple question: Would Dallas have been better off finding a new head coach this offseason to usher in these changes?


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In a wide-ranging interview last week with Stephen Jones on my SiriusXM Radio show, "Schein on Sports," the Cowboys COO sounded excited about the direction of the Cowboys, energetically tackling a series of topics spanning from the draft to the underrated safeties to the young and talented offensive line to Tony Romo's rehab from back surgery. But he also clearly stated the expectation for Garrett this season: "To win the NFC East."

Color me stunned if that happens.

Now, don't get me wrong: Despite the fact that Garrett is squarely on the proverbial hot seat, the franchise has actually taken steps in the right direction over the last few months.

The Monte Kiffin experiment was an epic failure last season, with the Cowboys ranking dead last in total defense by a comfortable margin. While it was easy (and accurate) to blame Kiffin for the wretched play on defense, it must be said that a number of long-standing vets didn't live up to the inflated salaries or expectations. Health issues, of course, played a big factor.

"Sitting here last year, if you told me that you were going to have DeMarcus Ware, Anthony Spencer, (Jay) Ratliff and Tyrone Crawford for the full year, we would be sitting here today having a different conversation," Jones said. "But we didn't have any of those guys healthy. Any of those guys. We have replaced them with young, healthy guys who will make a huge difference for us -- and (this is) much better than having nothing."

Dallas also handed the defensive reins to Rod Marinelli, promoting the well-traveled coach to coordinator.

"Rod looks at this group as a group," Jones said. "In the past, it was Ware, Spencer and Ratliff. Now, with the way Rod is coaching them up, it's a unit. I know we are going to be better in the front seven, which will help the entire thing."

Jones took the time to gush about Ware, lauding his accomplishments over nine years with the organization. But considering Ware's age and salary, the release just made sense for a team that is "cap restricted," as Jones called it. Ware will enjoy success again with the Denver Broncos, but he could no longer carry this team.

Fact is, Dallas needed major defensive changes in the coaching and personnel up front. They did the right thing. They also did the right thing in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft.

With front-seven defenders Anthony Barr, Aaron Donald, and Ryan Shazier off the board -- Jones mentioned those three by name -- the Cowboys eschewed the safety position ("We think it is much better than the pundits do," Jones said) and smartly selected Zacky Football over Johnny Football.

Astute decision-making over headlines and buzz for the Dallas Cowboys? Fantastic.

Jones explained that picking Zack Martin, the well-rounded offensive lineman from Notre Dame, was pretty easy: "He's at a position of need for us. We got (Travis) Frederick the year before. And Tyron Smith is one of the top tackles at left tackle. Now we have youth and talent across the board. Our guard play, with injuries included, we needed help there. And Zack can also play outside at tackle and put his hand on the ball and snap. He's very versatile. His intangibles are impeccable and top-notch. His leadership, his toughness, the quality of player he is, what he will bring to the field and meeting room are too good to pass up."

Jones confirmed that Johnny Manziel was -- smartly -- not an option. Dallas needed defense or O-line help. Manziel would've been an absolute circus on a team that already features a top-10 quarterback.

Yup, I'll keep beating that drum on Romo. Considering all of the deficiencies around him, Romo is the sole reason Dallas has even reached .500 in three straight 8-8 campaigns.

I asked Jones if he or his dad or Garrett reached out to Romo when the Johnny Football rumors ramped up during the pre-draft process.

"We did it, everybody had a visit with him along the way -- Jerry included, myself included -- and told him how this is his football team and how much we think of him and with all the rumors flying around not to pay attention to that," Jones said. "His response is, as you might expect from Tony, it was, 'Well if you decide to, it ain't going to matter; there's not anybody out there that can beat me out.' "

It's true. And if you are a Cowboys fan, you have to love the swagger.

Tony Romo gets the heat in Dallas, but he is never truly the problem. Nothing illustrated that more than last October's 51-48 home loss to Denver. As I wrote at the time, that defeat was on the defense -- not Romo, despite his late-game pick. This organization has much bigger concerns than a signal-caller who owns a sparkling 95.8 career quarterback rating.

Which leads us back to Garrett.

Garrett's in-game coaching has left much to be desired. Consequently, the Cowboys continue shuffling play-calling duties, with Scott Linehan taking over as offensive coordinator in January. Jones told me that he thinks Linehan will take a big load off Garrett's plate, allowing the head coach to concentrate on broader decision-making. And Jones said the organization values the bright Garrett, who is "inching closer" to greatness, in the COO's words.

But Garrett can't continue to move at the pace of a tortoise -- time isn't on his side.

The NFC is loaded.

On paper right now -- factoring in rosters, coaches and health -- the Cowboys are not a playoff team. I would argue they are ranked somewhere between Nos. 10 and 16 in the conference.

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Dallas is doing the right thing, retooling with savvy football moves. The alternative wasn't working; the wins weren't there when the cap was bloated.

But if Jones truly expects Garrett to deliver a division title this year, then it will take a miracle for the Cowboys coach to see this retooling process all the way through.

Follow Adam Schein on Twitter @AdamSchein.

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