As soon as Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones confirmed he is backing off a threat of legal action over the future of Commissioner Roger Goodell, the focus turned to the performance of coach Jason Garrett and his staff.[[459650663,R]]
That's how bad the tailspin is for a team desperately missing suspended star running back Ezekiel Elliott.
Jones said after Dallas' third straight loss by at least 20 points -- 28-6 to the Los Angeles Chargers on Thanksgiving -- that the compensation committee was being responsive to his concerns about a contract extension for Goodell.
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While denying that his concerns are connected to Goodell's decision to suspend Elliott for six games over alleged domestic violence, Jones said he wanted all the owners to revisit the commissioner's performance after voting unanimously in May to let the compensation committee complete a new deal.
Jones' concerns have included the league's handling of protests involving the national anthem and the disciplinary power of the commissioner in the collective bargaining agreement, which is what Goodell used to punish Elliott after prosecutors in Ohio didn't pursue charges.
The issue turned into an exchange of threatening letters after Jones hired high-profile attorney David Boies. Jones said there will be an owners-only session to discuss Goodell's contract during the next NFL meetings Dec. 13 in the Dallas area.
"I just want to say we really have had, are having a lot of owner participation," Jones said. "It doesn't mean at all that we're not really pursuing what we want to get done, and that is have the owners in a very positive way give input and make everyone, including ourselves, accountable.
"I don't want to be redundant, but the business of standing down there didn't necessarily mean that you're not standing up elsewhere."
Jones' team is falling apart a year after the dynamic rookie duo of quarterback Dak Prescott and Elliott carried the Cowboys to the best record in the NFC at 13-3.
Dallas (5-6) already has twice as many losses, and Prescott more than double the number of interceptions (nine after four as the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year). The Cowboys still have three games left in Elliott's suspension, after winning the last three before the ban.
The slide hasn't reflected well on the coaches, with the Cowboys outscored 72-6 in the second half of the three losses. That lopsided number leads to questions about halftime adjustments.
"We all know that it has to get better, has to get together," Jones said. "I really think this coaching staff is tops. I think Jason is able to use everything that he's learned, as coordinator, as coach over these last years, and we've just got to get it together."
The last time Garrett faced questions about his job, the Cowboys were coming off three straight 8-8 seasons that ended with losses in regular-season finales that kept them out of the playoffs.
Since then, the fluctuations have been dramatic -- NFC East champs at 12-4 in 2014, a first-to-last slide to 4-12 without injured quarterback Tony Romo a year later, followed by last season's sparkling year when Prescott shocked the NFL after Romo got hurt again.
And while the absence of Elliott and 2016 All-Pro linebacker Sean Lee (hamstring) is a huge part of the current slide, the Cowboys again aren't handling adversity well. Garrett admitted as much about 2015, and is about to have to do so again if the Cowboys can't reverse the slide.
Dallas plays Washington in the last of three home games Thursday, then starts a season-ending stretch of three out of four on the road at the last-place New York Giants.
"Obviously we've got to get it right," Garrett said. "That's my job. That's our job as a coaching staff. We just haven't done enough on either side of the ball or in the kicking game to allow us to compete toward the end of the ballgame."
Jones, who spoke to the team after the game but declined to offer details, tried to say he wasn't giving the "negative vote of confidence" by continuing to show faith in Garrett, who got a five-year contract after winning the division and his first playoff game in 2014.
In his seventh full season, Garrett is 63-52 in the regular season. Only Tom Landry, who led the Cowboys for their first 29 years, has coached the team longer.
"I feel about this staff the same way I feel about my mirror -- that's what if there's some changes made, don't change what's in front of the mirror, because I can change what you're doing that the mirror is seeing," Jones said. "Candidly, I'm really not shaken. I'm disappointed, but there's no shake here."
That could change if the blowout losses don't stop.