Win or else? Cowboys’ Jason Garrett still isn’t worried about future

INDIANAPOLIS — Jason Garrett does not worry about his future even if he cannot avoid the almost daily speculation. It’s just part of the life as coach of the Dallas Cowboys.

Owner and general manager Jerry Jones has opted not to extend Garrett’s contract past 2019, putting the coach in a win-or-else situation after Garrett directed the Cowboys to the playoffs in three of the past five seasons.

“I don’t really have any feelings about that,” Garrett, 52, said Wednesday from the NFL scouting combine when asked about going into the final year of his deal. “I’ve always just tried to do my job as well as I can do it and build a team we all can be proud of. We’ll just continue to do that. I never spent much time thinking about the business part of my job. Feel good about where our team is. Again, a really young football team. One I think grew over the course of last year.”

Only Tom Landry has coached longer for the Cowboys, 29 seasons to eight full seasons, than Garrett. Only Landry has more wins, 250-77, with the Cowboys than Garrett. In January, Garrett won his second playoff game with a 24-22 victory against the Seattle Seahawks in the wild-card round. He led the Cowboys out of a 3-5 hole to make the playoffs and win the NFC East with a 10-6 record.

In some cities, that might have been viewed as success and cause for a new deal. In Dallas, success is viewed differently. Five Lombardi Trophies greet visitors at The Star and serve as a reminder of what’s on the line each season.

“I am, Jason is, we’re both happy with where we are,” Jones said last week. “And we’ve done this before. … We both have real trust in each other. So a little more unique than others.”

If Garrett is as happy as Jones said he is, he wasn’t letting on Wednesday. If he is upset that his future is uncertain, he wasn’t letting on there, either.

“Every one of us tries to come into our building with a sense of urgency every day to try to be our best individually and try to be our best for our football team,” Garrett said. “That hasn’t changed for me in 30 years. That’s what we try to instill in our players and we certainly want to live that as coaches.”

As Jones said, Garrett has been through this before. He entered 2014 without a contract extension after three consecutive 8-8 finishes from 2011 through 2013. The Cowboys went 12-4 and made it to the divisional round of the playoffs, losing in the cruelest of ways after Dez Bryant‘s fourth-down catch at the Green Bay Packers‘ goal line was overturned by replay.

Less than a week later, Garrett signed a five-year, $30 million deal.

“You come in there trying to be great each and every day and every opportunity that you have, that sense of urgency, that backs-to-the-wall mentality has served us well through the years,” Garrett said.

That mindset is how Garrett survived for 12 years as a backup quarterback in the NFL out of Princeton. Each year it was a fight just to make the roster, and by the end of his career, it was a fight to stay on a roster, fending off challenges from younger quarterbacks.

“One of my favorite people I’ve ever met in football is Mark Tuinei, a dear friend, played 15 years for the Dallas Cowboys, was a Pro Bowl left tackle and he told me early on in our relationship, you know at this point he was a really established player, and he said, ‘Every day I walk into the building I’m a college free agent. That’s who I am,'” Garrett said. “And that’s what brings the best out in him. Again, the best players I’ve been around, the best teams I’ve been around have that kind of an attitude and you come to work every day with that sense of urgency whether you’re a player or as coach, and typically it brings out your best.”

No one can say what bar Garrett needs to jump in order to secure a new deal in 2020, be it a spot in the NFC Championship Game or Super Bowl. Without a playoff appearance, it is almost certain the Cowboys will be looking for a head coach.

“No one wants Jason to be around here for the long term more than the Jones family,” executive vice president Stephen Jones said. “No one thinks more of him than we do. But at the same time I know he uses it, but everybody’s back is against the wall right now. We’ve got a really good young team. We’ve got high expectations for this young team and everybody from Jason to his staff to our players to ownership to the organization feels the pressure to take the next step. Our fans deserve that and we haven’t done it and done it in a long time. Certainly feel the pressure to do it.”

No one more than Garrett, even if he doesn’t worry about it.

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