Commentary

Fish story: The ones who got away

Updated: December 15, 2009, 12:33 PM ET
By Matt Mosley | ESPNDallas.com

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Shame on those of us who bought into the flimsy theory that this was a different Cowboys team. On Sunday night in the Meadowlands, the Eagles showed why they're the NFC East's only hope of sending a representative to the Super Bowl.

Philly has the league's most explosive player in DeSean Jackson, and there's no way the Cowboys will stay on the field with the Eagles on Jan. 3. Despite some rather obvious flaws -- giving up 514 yards to the Giants -- Andy Reid's team can outscore any team this side of New Orleans. And don't look now, but the Saints appear to be one of the most vulnerable undefeated teams in the league after escaping with a three-point win over the Falcons.

Don't get me wrong, though. Saints coach Sean Payton is saving up something special for his former boss Jerry Jones, a man who hung his playoff hopes on Arlington's Tower of Babel.

[+] EnlargeSean Payton
Matt Stamey/US PresswireSean Payton strolled the Cowboys' sideline as an assistant under Bill Parcells. But the Saints gave him a shot to be a head coach in 2006, and he's guided the Saints to a franchise-best 13-0 record this season.

We didn't know it at the time, but Jones had a stable of future NFL head coaches at his disposal three years ago. Payton had already bolted for the Saints, but Jones interviewed Norv Turner, Tony Sparano, Todd Haley, Jim Caldwell and Mike Singletary. And not that anyone's counting but I believe that Turner, Sparano and Caldwell have combined to go 19-0 in December. Haley helped lead the Cardinals to the Super Bowl, and now he's trying to jump-start the Chiefs organization as head coach. Meanwhile, Singletary has restored some pride to the 49ers organization.

Jones made the safest hire available -- as long as you equate safety with solid regular-season win totals. Phillips has gone 3-7 in December while insisting that journalists have conspired to fabricate that record.

If Jones tries to march out his Countdown To Continuity campaign again, I think this fanbase is prepared to revolt. Not even a $29 Party Pass can counter three consecutive late-season collapses.

Jones has loved having a "yes" man around but he cannot continue to trot out Phillips to represent this organization. Poor Wade's getting eaten alive by a local press corps that's not exactly regarded as a venemous group.

Barring a rally during the final three games (anyone?), Jones will have to replace Jimmy Johnson for the sixth time. And after watching ESPN's entertaining documentary "The U" on Saturday, I'd settle for Jimmy's University of Miami predecessor, Howard Schnellenberger, or anyone else who smokes a pipe and says marginally interesting things. In his three years, Wade's shown why the folks at Toastmasters do such important work.

Jones always said that he keeps a list of coaches handy so that he's never caught off guard. I have to believe that his good friend and former Broncos coach, Mike Shanahan, is at the top of that list.

[+] EnlargeWade Phillips
AP Photo/Jim Prisching

Shanahan will be one of the most coveted free-agent coaches on the market, which means that Jones might have to bid against his little buddy, Dan Snyder.

I think Jon Gruden could also be in the mix but it seems like he's enjoying his TV gig. The one name that no one's brought up is former Jets and Chiefs coach Herm Edwards, who also draws a paycheck from Bristol these days. He's beloved by a lot of players I talk to from the NFC East.

Jason Garrett was tapped as head-coach-in-waiting two years ago, but his star has faded. His supporters believe he hasn't been able to reveal his true leadership skills out of deference to Phillips. But I'm not sure he has what it takes to be a successful head coach in this league.

When the Titans were off to an 0-6 start there was hope that Jerry could land Jeff Fisher on the rebound. That would've been an excellent hire but it's probably going to be impossible to lure the coach away from a city that adores him.

If you want to think outside the box, Jones could follow the Ravens' blueprint and hire a talented young assistant coach such as Eagles defensive coordinator Sean McDermott (35), a man who learned at the foot of Jim Johnson.

And if you want to keep it in the family, go hire Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, who's spent the bulk of his NFL coaching career with the Cowboys. Zimmer and McDermott are disciples of the 4-3 but they could both adapt to the Cowboys' personnel.

I don't think Jerry can afford to stick with Phillips' milquetoast approach any longer. His laidback demeanor was certainly a breath of fresh air for players following Bill Parcells' demanding four years, but it has run its course.

Phillips can defend his excellent regular-season record all he wants but he'll ultimately be remembered for what his teams accomplished in December and January, which has been virtually nothing.

The part where I defend Jon Daniels

I thought the Rangers general manager took a bold approach to last week's winter meetings in Indianapolis. In a perfect world in which owners haven't defaulted on enormous loans, the Rangers could've kept veteran Kevin Millwood and added the talented right-hander Rich Harden. Unfortunately, that's not the world the Rangers live in as we wait to meet the new ownership group.

In addition to Harden, the Rangers acquired Orioles reliever Chris Ray and Red Sox third baseman Mike Lowell. There's not a sure thing in the bunch, but I still think the Rangers are a better team in 2010 because of the deal.

Daniels was able to acquire talent without giving up talented players such as Neftali Feliz and Justin Smoak. And by the way, what does it tell you about Josh Johnson that the Marlins reportedly passed on Feliz and Smoak for Johnson? Tells me they're in love with the guy's value. This is not a team that's afraid to move young players.

So who cares if Damp's in a contract year?

About every five years or so, Erick Dampier decides to cash in on his immense talent. It leaves everyone wondering why he's such a stiff the rest of the time, but I'm not going to sit around and complain.

If Dampier can have a double-double every other game, this team's chances of making noise in the playoffs improves exponentially.

And it's not like Damp has the market cornered when it comes to flipping the switch during a contract year. Instead of letting it frustrate you, go ahead and embrace it. Own it.

Matt Mosley writes weekly on the Dallas-Fort Worth sports scene for ESPNDallas.com.

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