Here's a thought exercise: say the Cowboys fire Jason Garret on Monday, December 30th. Who hires him as a head coach next year? And if he doesn't get a head coaching job, who hires him as an offensive coordinator? Houston, maybe? Jacksonville?
Even better, who's going to sign on to lead this franchise? You're never going to overrule the GM, because he's the owner's best friend. Any player of consequence has a direct line to the GM. Of those players of consequence, you have the aging and declining (Romo, Ware), the brilliant but brittle (Lee, Murray), and the possibly emotionally disturbed who can't get out of the way of their own narrative (Bryant). Your cap situation will be terrible for the foreseeable future. And there's a hamstring plague in the facility. Who's going to sign on for that roller coaster of awfulness?
Now that you're thoroughly depressed (as if you weren't already, after the last two weeks), let's get into why the window is likely slammed shut for this team: because the biggest difference-maker the Cowboys have is declining, and fast.
For the past seven years, Tony Romo has carried this franchise, and the town has done nothing but scoff at him. He's not Troy Aikman, he's not Roger Staubach; if that were a crime, we would be executing all but maybe five active NFL quarterbacks. But lesser quarterbacks have won Super Bowls while Romo had Wade Phillips explaining that getting a bye in the first round of the playoffs is kind of like a playoff win.
The thing is, that Tony Romo probably isn't here anymore. For all his faults, there was one central truth to Romo; his ability to keep plays alive with his field awareness and mobility, and his accuracy while moving meant he could eat up huge chunks of field on plays that should have been broken.
That accuracy looks to be gone, now. The mobility still flashes itself, but, for every flash, there's a time when Romo just kind of stumbles or seems surprised by a rush he used to be two steps ahead of.
When the Cowboys break camp next year, he'll be 34 years old. His cap number next year is 21.7 million dollars. He also does not play corner, defensive tackle, or safety with any appreciable quality.
It's easy to say Romo is declining, but backing it up is something else entirely. Luckily, I have a rudimentary understanding of statistical analysis, and a good internet connection here in my mom's basement.
(Just kidding. There are no basements in Texas.)
First, to address the good: there's an outside chance Romo ends the season with the fewest interceptions he's thrown in a full 16-game season this year, and he'll probably have the second-most touchdowns of any season at the end of the year (and if he throws 7 TDs over the next two games- not likely, but not impossible) he'll match his highest season total. His QB rating of 96.6 is higher than his career average of 95.8. His completion percentage of 64 is less than a percentage point off his career average.
Those are good things. This is also the point where people will wave off anything good Romo does and say he does that when there's no pressure, like playing quarterback in the NFL isn't one of the most insanely difficult things humans do, and it's possible to be really good at it for three quarters and then be terrible at it for the last one because of... pressure? Narrative? He gets tired I guess?
Popular though those criticisms may be, here's some better ones: his average yards per attempt is at the lowest point of his career. This season's mark of 7.4 yards per attempt is a full yard plus below where it was during his peak. I love yards per attempt because it rewards two things; completing a lot of your passes, and gaining a lot of yards on your passes. I admit to being a humble blogger, but those seem like really, really important things to a football team. That's why quarterbacks make Jay-Z money while the rest of the team has to get by on Riff Raff money.
Absent context outside of his career marks, the above information doesn't mean much. That's where NY/A+ comes in handy. This little metric converts a QB's Net Yards per Attempt (which includes yards lost due to sacks) into a single number. 100 is league average; higher than 100 is better than league average, while lower is worse.
The worst mark of Romo's career in NY/A+ was 108 before this year. At his worst, he was a good bit better than average. This year, that mark is 98. His Completion Percentage + (which compares raw Completion Percentage to League Average, and coverts to 100 as average, just like NY/A+ but without the snazzy acronym) is 111 this year. He's still completing passes at a higher rate than average, but he's getting less yards out of them than the average QB.
That's a problem.That's like Adrian Beltre hitting for the same average, but all singles (which is kind of like Mike Young). Less yards mean less first downs, less first downs mean less touchdowns, less touchdowns mean less wins.
Speaking of wins, here's Romo's 16-game season WPA (Win Percentage Added) over his career: 3.07, 2.54, 3.99, and 4.37.
This year's total? 1.85, with two games left to add to that. There's not much hope he can play so well as to add to that total in a way that would salvage the metric (and thereby the Cowboys' season, and probably Jason Garret's job). Then again, I remember a quarterback putting up .79 worth of WPA in one game not too long ago.
It was Josh McCown, vs. the Cowboys. Let go of hope.
Football Dallas: Taking Cowboys Content Further. Download it for free here!