Did Jason Garrett Deserve to Be Re-Signed by the Dallas Cowboys?
The Dallas Cowboys just re-signed their much-debated head coach, Jason Garrett, to a five-year, $30 million deal. His new pay grade of $6 million dollars per year would pit him among the likes of fellow NFC East head coach, Chip Kelly, who signed a $32.5 million dollar contract with the Philadelphia Eagles in January of 2013.
I will ask a two-pronged question here: first of all, should Dallas have even re-signed Garrett in the first place? Sure, the Cowboys are coming off of a year in which they secured their first playoff win since 2009, but how much of that success is due to the head coach?
Secondly, is Garrett even worth the deal he just signed? Does he deserve the lucrative deal Jerry Jones just gave him? Let’s see what the advanced metrics tell us.
If you’re new to numberFire, we use a metric called Net Expected Points (NEP) that shows how a team performs relative to the league average. You can read more about NEP in our glossary.
For the context of Garrett’s evaluation, we’ll use our metric called Adjusted NEP and Adjusted Defensive NEP. These quantify a team’s performance on the field while adjusting for strength of schedule. The purpose of using this metric, instead of a statistic like total offense or defense, is to gain a more contextual assessment of a team.
Below are Dallas’ Adjusted NEP for offense and Adjusted Defensive NEP in the four years Jason Garrett has been the head coach of the Cowboys. These numbers are for the regular season only and do not include the Cowboys’ two playoff games this year. Overall rankings are in parentheses.
|Year||Adj NEP||Adj D NEP||W-L Record|
|2011||63.23 (12th)||30.38 (19th)||8-8|
|2012||73.67 (13th)||85.57 (25th)||8-8|
|2013||46.18 (15th)||75.06 (24th)||8-8|
|2014||156.15 (3rd)||68.73 (23rd)||12-4|
Outside of the 2014 season on offense, Jason Garrett has led the Cowboys to mediocrity, living just on the right side of 16th. In three of Garrett’s four years in the Big D, his offenses have been slightly above average while his defenses have not had a year at least at league average in Adjusted Defensive NEP (16th). That’s not good. At all.
Let’s look a little deeper at how bad Dallas’ defenses have been in Garrett’s tenure.
Sure, Dallas’ defenses under Garrett have struggled, but the major thing working against the Cowboys newly re-signed head coach is they haven’t improved remarkably over his four years. Unless you call being ranked 25th in 2012, 24th in 2013, and 23rd in 2014 major “improvement.”
A mechanism of Dallas’ below average defenses in Garrett’s tenure is, frankly, the defensive coordinators haven’t been that great. One of the league's most overrated defensive coordinators, Rob Ryan, was axed after two short years, and Monte Kiffin was let go after the 2013 season.
Fortunately for the Cowboys, they did just re-sign Rod Marinelli, who managed to turn their defense which obviously lacks top-end talent, into a competent unit. As shown by their Adjusted Defensive NEP ranking, their defense was clearly not among the league’s best in 2014, but the team clearly improved from their 2013 marks in one department: points allowed per game. In 2013, the Cowboys gave up 27 points per game, good enough for 26th in the NFL. This year, that number dropped to 22.1 points per game, 16th in the league.
Even though the Dallas defense appeared marginally better this year than last year, on a per-play basis, it was actually slightly worse. Its Adjusted Defensive NEP per play this year was 0.07, worse than its mark last year (0.06). The offense’s efficiency helped limit the plays the defense saw -- 975 plays this regular season compared to 1,093 last year. Overall, the defense benefited from the offense’s success, but to say the defense really took a step ahead isn’t the case, according to our numbers.
Garrett has always been an offensive-minded coach, though. That leads us to our next point about Jason Garrett -- does he deserve the acclimation for the Cowboys’ improved offense? How much of their 2014 success on offense is due to Dallas’ offensive coordinator, Scott Linehan, and his scheme change?
It’s important to keep in mind coaching tendencies on the offensive side of the ball in context. A lot of things impact play-calling. Game-flow, opposing defenses tendencies, and situations all combine in one decision making pot. Because that's what play-calling is in it's simplest form: decision making.
These choices at certain points of the game can lead to higher or lower expected win expectancies. Jason Garrett has come under fire for game mismanagement, at times, which led to Scott Linehan’s taking over as the Cowboys play-caller this season.
Here are the Cowboys passing and rushing play-calling tendencies. For example, Dallas called a run play 46.6% of the time in 2014, the third most run-heavy in the league.
|Year||PASS %||RUSH %|
For the first time ever, the Cowboys were actually a very balanced team in 2014 and it payed off, big-time. Their offense dominated opposing defenses on the back of DeMarco Murray’s 437 total rushing attempts (playoffs included) and an incredibly efficient, Tony Romo. And, yeah, they did have the 2014 league leader in receiving touchdowns, Dez Bryant.
Having one of the NFL’s best at quarterback, running back, and wide receiver certainly helps in creating one of the league’s best offenses. It also helps that Dallas’ re-made offensive line was, by far, the best in the league in 2014.
So, Cowboys general manager Jerry Jones, and Jerry’s son, Stephen, who is the director of player personnel, seemingly led the coalition to make un-sexy selections and take offensive linemen in first round of the last two NFL drafts. Linehan, took over as the Cowboys play-caller in 2014 and converted the Cowboys from a pass-happy, unbalanced offense, into a juggernaut in one season.
What exactly did Jason Garrett do to deserve his shiny next deal?
Can Jason Garrett lead Dallas to a Super Bowl? Sure. Maybe. It took a lot of help to get Dallas to their points of success in 2014. But there is no way you could unequivocally say there isn’t a better head coach in the world capable of leading the Cowboys.
Garrett has one season above .500 in his four seasons in Dallas, accompanying one playoff win this year. If anything, Garrett proved his “worth” in his four prior seasons: he can coach slightly-above-average offenses and well-below-average defenses. Maybe he will improve upon the Cowboys 2014 achievements and deliver consistency. Or maybe he’ll wind-up like another long-tenured, incredibly average coach, like Jeff Fisher.
Only time will tell.