FRISCO - Seven Steps.
That's it. Seven Dallas Cowboys Steps that will allow this once-proud franchise to stride away from the just-ended 6-10 debacle and to return to some level of competency ... "competency'' being all it would've taken in 2020 to run away with the NFC East, "competency'' being a huge step forward from the mish-mash work overseen by the Jones family and new coach Mike McCarthy in this lost year.
We entered the month of January contemplating these Seven Steps, as you can see here ...
Almost two weeks into the month ... and some of these Seven Steps have been taken. Good for the Cowboys.
We can go into more detail, step-by-step, at a future time. But for now, quick thoughts ... and Seven Steps toward an NFL Playoffs return:
1 DAK DEAL "Deadlines Make Deals''? Yes, Jerry Jones ... but the "deadline'' was two years ago. The longer both sides wait (yes, this is on agent Todd France's side, too), the more a gloomy cloud of question hangs over The Star.
Why let players, Prescott's teammates, start wondering about commitment and trust - from all involved? Jerry has already conceded via the media that Dak has all "the leverage.''
Now concede at the negotiating table. Dak wants four years instead of five? Hey, what's another year when the involved parties have already wasted two of them.
A Dak deal. Now.
2 NO, NO, NOLAN How can head coach Mike McCarthy preach "accountability'' in this building while at the same time failing to hold somebody responsible for one of the poorest efforts by a defense in Cowboys franchise history?
Coordinator Mike Nolan cannot stay. The secondary coaches, in particular, cannot stay. "The F.O.M.M. Buddy System'' ("Friend of Mike McCarthy'') method of hiring cannot be relied upon.
UPDATE: Nolan is out. So is his top aide, Jim Tomsula. And as the focus of Dallas' coordinator interviews was on not only Dan Quinn (who gets the job) but also on two guys who specialize in coaching the secondary ... more changes are coming.
3 SIX-PACK ON D Dallas has six guys on defense - one in one category, two in a second category and three in a third - who very well might not be here next year.
*Aldon Smith is in one category, a possibly-coveted free agent. I'm less certain than other media people about his return.
*Sean Lee and, sources tell me, Tyrone Crawford, are considering retirement.
*Chidobe Awuzie, Jourdan Lewis and Xavier Woods are all free agents.
Six guys. Three categories. All, basically, starters. Turnover can be good ... unless these six are replaced by inferior players.
4 WHERE THERE'S A WILL ... Top exec Will McClay will be the first to tell you this wasn't his best year in terms of personnel decisions. Yet, his track record is good and he is absolutely vital to the smooth running of this organization. (See "The Unifier.'')
And now that the Houston Texans have hired a GM, the Houston native McClay will stay on, working to help the Jones family to which he is remarkably loyal.
5 JUSTIFYING JAYLON & CO. Jaylon Smith makes a lot of money. Makes a lot of noise. Gets a lot of attention.
Not all of it good.
READ MORE: Jaylon's Dallas Defense: 'Watch The Film'
While he sometimes comes across as tone-deaf regarding criticism - maybe that's just his rosy personality - there is nothing wrong with Jaylon Smith as a football player that a reduced role and a proper scheme fit wouldn't fix. McCarthy's Cowboys promised they'd fit the defensive scheme to the players; they didn't do that at all, thus failing players like DeMarcus Lawrence, Randy Gregory, Donovan Wilson and most of all, Smith.
Go back and watch the beginning of the Week 17 game at the Giants. It took no time for New York coordinator Jason Garrett to dial up a pass play that sent a scatback running a route requiring Jaylon to drop into coverage.
Jaylon Smith should not be playing ... percent of the snaps, should not be dropping into coverage against fast route-runners, should not be asked to be an east-west player. This is a "north'' player, a downhill run-stopper with pass-rush skills.
Put Jaylon Smith in a position to succeed and I bet he will.
6 CULTURE CLUB McCarthy talks about doing things "the right way.'' But I still don't know what that means. Do the Cowboys outwork the other teams? Out-think the other teams? Or do they just out-talk the other teams?
As long as this is a "marketing team'' first - and it is, God bless "The Brand'' - the players are likely to, subconsciously at least, think of their own brands, too. I didn't create the idea of "#53brands'' to be a wise-ass; I did it because it reflects what I believe is an accidental-but-true byproduct of the way business is done at The Star.
7 'JERRY ELWAY'? Should Jerry Jones pull an "Elway''? How about a "Snyder''?
I'm not calling for the ridiculous "Jerry should sell the team!'' crap; just a re-examination of himself, as we all should do - especially when its been 25 years since we've achieved our goal. Denver's John Elway moved away from being the Broncos' GM. Washington's Dan Snyder is suddenly an owner who is letting coach Ron Rivera run everything.
If a boss like Elway, who is "legendary'' in Colorado in much the same way Jerry is "legendary'' here, can step sideways ... if an owner like Snyder, who actually emulates Jerry, can step sideways ... why shouldn't Jerry Jones at least consider front-office movement?