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Dallas Cowboys: Does an NFC East title guarantee Jason Garrett will be back next season? Not necessarily

ARLINGTON — Let’s go ahead and deal with the elephant in the room. Did the Cowboys’ 27-20 win over the hapless Tampa Bay Buccaneers ensure that Jason Garrett will be their head coach in 2019?

The short answer is no. On my nationally recognized Garrett probability scale, he now has an 88 percent chance of returning next season. In my 16 years of covering this team, I haven’t seen a more remarkable turnaround than what the Cowboys were able to do after falling to 3-5. Yes, we must remember that Garrett and his sidekick Scott Linehan helped put the Cowboys in that ditch, but we should credit them (and a dominant defense) for climbing to a 9-6 record and a division title. It’s hard to believe the Cowboys actually have a choice between resting their starters or trying to build momentum for the playoffs.

Jerry Jones and Rod Marinelli both mentioned to me that it was time to go full throttle against the New York Giants in pursuit of win No. 10. I think that sort of hubris will fade a bit as the Cowboys think about what rest could do for key players such as Zeke Elliott and DeMarcus Lawrence. I assure you that it’s crossed Garrett’s mind that a 10-win season simply sounds better, no matter the circumstances. When I asked Jerry whether there was anything special about 10 wins, he said, “Of course it does. It means more than nine. Math’s my subject.”

For once, Jones wasn’t asked about Garrett’s future. Maybe we were overtaken by the Christmas spirit. Or maybe it feels inevitable at this point that Garrett will be on the sideline next season. This is where a lot of fans (maybe half?) are really torn about this turnaround. I think a large segment would’ve foregone a playoff appearance if you could guarantee them Garrett’s dismissal. And don’t think that sentiment is lost on Jones.

Even with all this excitement over wrapping up the NFC East, he knows that a quick exit from the playoffs would lead to disgust from Cowboys Nation. That’s why I think he’s preparing for a couple scenarios.

If the Cowboys get bounced on wildcard weekend, Jones could try to keep Garrett and throw Scott Linehan overboard. It’s been reported that Garrett thought about firing Linehan when he dismissed offensive line coach Paul Alexander during the bye week. The trade for Amari Cooper galvanized the Cowboys in some ways, but the inefficiency was still there in Sunday’s game. It took a couple takeaways by the defense to put points on the board. Otherwise, the offense looked pretty stale. Replacing Linehan might appease fans and allow Prescott to have a new collaborator. Could that be a blast-from-the-past like Norv Turner? Or it might involve Garrett taking a more active role in the offense, which wouldn’t exactly light anyone’s fire.

There’s also chance Jones could finally say goodbye to Garrett, whose decent win-loss record has been undermined by his lack of postseason success. Other coaches with his track record not named Marv Lewis would’ve been fired years ago. There’s certainly some good things that come with continuity, but if Jones is in love with a young coach like Kris Richard, now might be the time to pull the trigger. I don’t think there’s any way that Lincoln Riley wants this job right now, in case you were wondering. There is one coach who loves to come out of retirement, and his name is Urban Meyer. But that also seems far-fetched.

I often wonder what sort of coaching job Garrett would land if he were fired by the Cowboys. I’ve had folks try to convince me that he’d immediately be hired as a head coach, but I’m not buying it. He has longtime ties to the Cleveland Browns, but I don’t think that woebegone fanbase would be bowled over by the arrival of Garrett and his signature phrase, “How we doing guys?”

Everything is still in play, including a long-term contract extension with the Cowboys. If the Cowboys somehow reach the NFC Championship Game, that’s exactly what would happen.

Sorry, I must’ve been overtaken by the Christmas spirit. Forget I mentioned that last part.

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