DALLAS - Now that Jason Garrett has finally been told he's absolutely, positively not coming back, the first question for Jerry Jones is, what took you so long?
And the second is, did you catch Sunday's game at the Superdome?
Because I did, and it occurred to me that the wild card game between the Vikings and Saints could have been called the Jerry Bowl instead. Jerry's top two candidates to coach the Cowboys, both in the same place.
And if you think that's a stretch, check what he said about one of them just this season.
Before going there, though, let's set up the scenario: On Minnesota's sideline at the Superdome, you had Mike Zimmer, who worked under four of Jerry's head coaches. On the Saints' side was Sean Payton, who rose to fame as one of Bill Parcells' assistants in Dallas.
Both count among Jerry's favorite coaches as a result, and you underestimate the rankings at your own peril. Jerry's reluctance in letting go of Garrett can be attributed, at least in part, to the relationship they developed. It's important. Jerry wants to know he can work with a head coach and, more to the point, a head coach can work with him.
Relationships have become even more important to him because, at 77, his time may be running out. He's got a talented roster. Maybe Super Bowl-worthy. He doesn't have time to waste on a getting a college coach or NFL assistant up to speed. Probably accounts for the fact that the first two candidates to interview, Marvin Lewis and Mike McCarthy, are former head coaches. Jerry wants to win now.
The problem with Zimmer and Payton is they already have jobs. Payton is signed up with the Saints through 2026; Zimmer is good with the Vikings through 2020. Hiring either would require negotiations with their current employers.
Now, I know what you're thinking: Trade tangible resources for a guy who won't even get on the field?
Well, the Patriots famously did it, giving up a first, fourth and seventh to the Jets. Bill Belichick worked out pretty well. Tampa Bay did it, giving up two firsts and a second for Jon Gruden. He won a Super Bowl his first season.
If you believe a coach can take your talent and bring back a Lombardi Trophy, why wouldn't he be as valuable as on-field talent?
Sure, first-round picks are important. It's just that not all firsts are the same. Zack Martin was a first. So was Taco Charlton. The difference between them is a lot more than a few slots on a draft board.
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Payton no doubt would cost multiple firsts, and he might just be worth it. Once you get past Belichick, the Saints' coach is in the running for second-best in the league. He's creative, bold and he's won a Super Bowl. Also been ripped off on getting to one. He'd get the best out of Dak Prescott and the rest of the Cowboys' high-dollar offense.
If the price on Payton is too rich for you - and if you further believe that Payton has used his relationship with Jerry as leverage with the Saints – Zimmer's your man.
Word is the Vikings now want to extend his contract, but it wasn't long ago that he was a lame duck. He should remember his prior status before signing any extensions.
He might also remember that Jerry passed over him as head coach and lived to regret it.
"A miss on my part," is how Jerry put it in an interview with Minnesota media this season.
Before the Vikings came to JerryWorld to beat the Cowboys in November, Jerry talked at length about his relationship with Zimmer.
"You're calling about one of my favorite people," Jerry told the Star Tribune.
"I don't have anyone – whether it be the NFL or other relationships that I have in other things outside the NFL – I have no one that stands any higher than Mike Zimmer."
Zimmer might even be a better fit for the Cowboys than Payton. Zimmer builds his teams around defense and the running game. The Cowboys work from the same blueprint, only they were lacking in the execution department.
I have no doubt that Zimmer would fix the Cowboys' defense. He's a hard-liner who puts his players in a place to succeed.
The question with Zimmer is, who's running his offense? His offensive coordinator this season, Kevin Stefanski, reportedly is interviewing for gigs as a head coach. Could Zimmer live with Kellen Moore and Jon Kitna in Dallas?
For that matter, could he live with Jerry again?
ESPN's Chris Mortensen tweeted Sunday that 13 years in Dallas was "enough" for Zimmer. Maybe so. Maybe something got lost in the translation. Let's hope not, because if Jerry is forced to think outside the box, this could really get ugly.
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