IRVING, Texas -- Subtly, at least, it seems as if Jerry Jones is dropping hints that Jason Garrett will have the interim tag removed from the head-coach job title.
On Monday, Jones repeated something he has mentioned a few times in recent weeks -- no coach has ever won a Super Bowl with a second team. He continued to talk about the fight the Cowboys have shown under Garrett that they did not show in the last few games under Wade Phillips. He said he would not view Saturday's loss at Arizona as a negative when considering Garrett. He talked about how the potential lockout could make it difficult for a new coach to implement his system if the offseason is shortened.
"And so you go in here with minimum days, really weeks, to prepare a team and talk about wholesale changes, that would be tough to do," Jones said.
But Jones was emphatic in his belief that the Cowboys do not have to go into a rebuilding mode to compete for a playoff spot again.
"Let me be clear about that," Jones said. "... I certainly do think that we have the ability. Based on what I've seen other teams do, what I've seen us do, I certainly think we can hit the ground running. With a quarterback like [Tony] Romo, I think we can. Under a certain scenario here of coaching, we've got the ability to hit the ground running."
That looks like another hint in Garrett's favor, and it speaks to Jones' belief that the failure of the Cowboys' season is more on the coaches and players than on the roster he put together as the team's general manager.
Heading into Week 17, there are nine teams that did not make the playoffs in 2009 that have made or have a chance to make the 2010 field with a win (and some help) this weekend. Jones can look in his own division for an example. The New York Giants slipped from 12-4 in 2008 to 8-8 last season. With a win Sunday against Washington and a Green Bay loss, the Giants will be in the playoffs.
Romo's return certainly could trigger a quick turnaround. The Cowboys were 1-5 in Romo's starts before he suffered a broken left collarbone, but they were 38-17 in his first 55 starts. He was named to the Pro Bowl three times. He has the skill players around him to succeed and now the hunger to get back to a game that was taken away from him because of injury.
But what got the Cowboys in trouble this past offseason was in part Jones' hubris. While the Giants went out and added Antrel Rolle in free agency, the Cowboys stood pat. While the Bears signed Julius Peppers, the Cowboys stood pat.
While Jones might not be willing to go overboard in free agency (New England's Logan Mankins comes to mind), he will not stand pat this offseason.
The Cowboys changed only two starters in 2010 from 2009, when they went 11-5 and made it to the divisional round of the playoffs. Ken Hamlin and Flozell Adams were replaced by Alan Ball and Doug Free, respectively. The Cowboys did not add a significant free agent.
Even more, the Cowboys could not duplicate either their Pro Bowl or front-line starter success in 2010. Starters like Leonard Davis, Marion Barber, Roy Williams, Terence Newman and Marc Colombo could be on shaky footing in the offseason because of age, high-priced contracts or both.
"Well, we had every right to look at starters and the guys that had played well the year before to pencil them in," Jones said. "We all know that penciling them in didn't work in terms of where we find ourselves. You've got to evaluate not only each player but you've got to evaluate what you're doing from the framework of a team that last year won a lot more games, twice the games that we have won this year. All of this impacts your personnel decisions."