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The Dallas Cowboys do not play a game that matters again until September, but coach Jason Garrett’s proximity to the hot seat is already being discussed.

That’s what happens when you miss the playoffs for the fifth time in seven full seasons as coach, with the Cowboys finishing 9-7 in 2017.

At the Senior Bowl this week, owner and general manager Jerry Jones was asked if it was fair to consider Garrett on the hot seat in 2018.

“It’s fair for you to ask,” Jones told reporters in Mobile, Alabama, “but he’s not on my hot seat.”

Well, what else would you expect Jones to say in January? He would not answer that question in any other way. Jones backed Wade Phillips publicly until the end in 2010 when it was painfully obvious the players were no longer buying what he was selling.

“I would like for Jason to repeat as coach of the year within 24 months,” Jones said. “And he’s capable of doing that if we do good next year, be coach of the year twice in 24 months. That would be great.”

Garrett was named the NFL’s Coach of the Year after the Cowboys’ 13-3 finish in 2016. He took a team that lost its starting quarterback, Tony Romo, in the preseason, handed the keys to a fourth-round pick, Dak Prescott, and built the offense around a rookie running back, Ezekiel Elliott, to finish with an NFC-best 13 wins.

He didn’t have the answers in 2017 with Elliott’s suspension and injuries to offensive tackle Tyron Smith and linebacker Sean Lee derailing their season. By the end of the season, the passing game was unrecognizable even after Elliott’s return from suspension.

While disappointed in missing out on the playoffs, Jones never gave serious consideration to dismissing Garrett. But there have been changes to Garrett’s coaching staff. Wade Wilson (quarterbacks) and Joe Baker (secondary) were fired. Receivers coach Derek Dooley became the offensive coordinator at Missouri and will be replaced by Sanjay Lal. Special teams coach Rich Bisaccia was allowed to leave for the same job on Jon Gruden’s staff with the Oakland Raiders. Offensive line coach Frank Pollack was fired and replaced by Paul Alexander. Passing game coordinator/linebackers coach Matt Eberflus is expected to join Josh McDaniels in Indianapolis and was replaced as passing game coordinator by Kris Richard, who spent the previous three seasons as the Seattle Seahawks defensive coordinator.

More spots need to be filled, which is why Garrett was not at the Senior Bowl this week.

The coaches who remain and new coaches spent the week going over the Cowboys’ personnel, reviewing the 2017 season and what needs to be done to improve. Attending the Senior Bowl can be beneficial to coaches as they get a first look at prospects, but the truth is the week often turns into a high school reunion of sorts where coaches spend time catching up with buddies instead of paying attention to what’s happening on the field.

“I’m really excited about the changes we’ve made on the coaching staff,” Jones said. “There have been many. Probably by the time we’re through there would’ve been eight coaching changes. And so I think all of those give us a chance to improve, and we really are pleased with the availability of the coaches we’ve got and so I think that will help us. It was all done with the personnel we have and the moves we might have in mind.”

Garrett faced a more pressure-filled future in 2014. He was coming off three straight 8-8 finishes and was in the final year of his contract. The Cowboys went 12-4 and made it to the divisional round of the playoffs largely on Romo’s best season and DeMarco Murray’s 1,845 yards rushing.

That earned Garrett a five-year deal. This will be the fourth year of that contract.

“Jason has had a lot of success here,” executive vice president Stephen Jones said in this Dallas Morning News story. “At times when we have had an offseason there’s been some extenuating circumstances and I just think Jason is a great head football coach. He was coach of the year last year. This is a tough business now, when one year you’re coach of the year and the next people are asking questions like this. I understand it. I understand that’s the nature of our business, but we just really believe Jason is the right man for the job.

“He has a great way about the team. He represents the organization in a great way and we just feel like he’s the right guy for our organization.”

But make no mistake — he will be on the hot seat even if Jerry Jones doesn’t want to say it right now.

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Dallas Cowboys coaches — those who remain, anyway — are set to return from vacation next week, and at some point they will head to Mobile, Alabama, for the Senior Bowl.

At the moment, the Cowboys need a tight ends coach, a linebackers coach, a secondary coach, a special-teams coordinator, a wide receivers coach and a quarterbacks coach. The front office and head coach Jason Garrett might already know who will fill some of those roles and just aren’t saying.

So let’s lay out what has happened to the staff since the season ended, and what might happen next:

WHO’S OUT?

Special-teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia — Despite being under contract and putting together a good unit the past few seasons, he was allowed to leave by the front office and join Jon Gruden with the Oakland Raiders. Bisaccia is respected across the league and desires to be a head coach one day. Getting back together with Gruden could help him.

Linebackers coach Matt Eberflus — He is expected to be Josh McDaniels’ defensive coordinator wherever the New England Patriots’ offensive coordinator lands a head-coaching job (Indianapolis Colts, cough, cough). He was elevated to passing-game coordinator in 2017 and was a key part of the coverage schemes the Cowboys used. He devised their dime package a couple of years ago. He bet on himself last year, choosing not to sign an extension with the Cowboys in hopes of becoming a coordinator in 2018.

Wide receivers coach Derek Dooley — He would have been back with the Cowboys in 2018 but was able to land the offensive coordinator job at Missouri. This move allows him the chance to get back on track to being a head coach one day.

Offensive line coach Frank Pollack — With Pro Bowlers Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick and Zack Martin on his unit, his job did not appear to be on the line after the 2017 season ended. But a change was made, anyway, even though he remained under contract. He ended up as the line coach with the Cincinnati Bengals.

Quarterbacks coach Wade Wilson — The longest-tenured assistant under Garrett (2007-17), he was Dak Prescott’s first backer on the staff prior to the 2016 draft. His contract expired, and he was told he would not return.

Secondary coach Joe Baker — He was told his contract would not be renewed. While he incorporated almost an entirely new secondary in 2017, the fact that the players the Cowboys let walk in free agency — such as Barry Church, Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne — played better elsewhere did not help his cause.

Tight ends coach Steve Loney — He chose to retire after one season in his position, ending a coaching career that began in 1974.

WHO’S IN?

Offensive line coach Paul Alexander — He spent 23 years as the Bengals’ line coach and was able to put together some solid running game and pass protection schemes. He inherits what will be the best group he has coached and will be in charge of improving the pass protection while keeping the run game top notch. Over the years, he has changed his blocking scheme depending on the talent he has had.

Running backs coach Gary Brown — Sources say he is expected to return for his sixth season. He had interest from the Raiders and Houston Texans. He has had success with DeMarco Murray, Darren McFadden and Ezekiel Elliott since joining the Cowboys. He has also developed Keith Smith from a linebacker to a fullback and Rod Smith as an effective third-down back.

Sanjay Lal — A source said Lal will be the receivers coach after interviewing for the position last week. Miles Austin also interviewed for the spot and could be considered for another role on the staff, but Lal’s experience gave him the edge. The key question for the Cowboys and whoever coaches the receivers will be Dez Bryant’s future with the team.

WHO COULD BE IN?

Kellen Moore — After spending most of last season on the practice squad, he has interviewed for the quarterbacks coach job, and his close ties to Scott Linehan help his case. He has always been viewed as a coach-in-waiting. Considering that Linehan effectively runs the quarterback room as coordinator, it will allow Moore a chance to grow as a coach.

Keith O’Quinn — He has served as Bisaccia’s assistant since 2014. He has experience in coaching on both sides of the ball and comes from a scouting background. Considering how a special-teams unit is put together, the coach has to have an understanding of every level. The special-teams coordinator also has to work closely with Garrett. O’Quinn’s experience on the staff helps.

John Pagano — He is scheduled to meet with the club over the next few days. He ended last season as Oakland’s defensive coordinator, taking over for Ken Norton Jr. He has been an NFL assistant since 1996 and has extensive work as a linebackers coach, which is a sign the Cowboys are preparing for life without Eberflus. Pagano has experience in 4-3 and 3-4 systems and could be a solid resource for defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli.

Ray Horton — He won a Super Bowl ring with the Cowboys in 1992 as a defensive back and was considered for Garrett’s staff back in 2011. He was out of football last season after serving as Cleveland Browns defensive coordinator in 2016. While the Cowboys would like Greg Jackson to return to help the secondary, Horton has a lot of experience.

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all of his years as owner and general manager of the Dallas Cowboys, Jerry Jones had not made a trade with the Cincinnati Bengals until last September when the team acquired cornerback Bene Benwikere.

In effect, the Cowboys have made their second trade with the Bengals, swapping offensive line coaches.

According to a source, the Cowboys have hired Paul Alexander, who had been with the Bengals for 23 years, to replace Frank Pollack, who took Alexander’s job with the Bengals.

Alexander has a multi-faceted background as the Bengals’ line coach since 1995. While Pollack came from the Bill Callahan school of zone blocking, Alexander uses a combination of zone, power and trap schemes.

Since 2014, the Cowboys have not had a running game rank outside the top 10. DeMarco Murray led the NFL in rushing in 2014. Darren McFadden finished fourth in 2015 even though he did not become the lead back until the sixth game of the season. Ezekiel Elliott led the league in rushing in 2016.

Elliott nearly became the first Cowboys runner to post back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons top open a career since Tony Dorsett in 1977-78, finishing 17 yards short despite playing in just 10 games because of a suspension.

The strength of the Cowboys’ roster is their offensive line, led by Pro Bowlers Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick and Zack Martin. Smith has been named to the Pro Bowl each of the last five years. Frederick and Martin have been named the last four seasons.

La’el Collins moved from left guard to right tackle in 2017 and improved as the year went on. The two questions the Cowboys have are at left guard, where 13-game starter Jonathan Cooper is set to become a free agent, and at backup offensive tackle, where things fell apart in Smith’s absence from three-plus games due to injury.

The Bengals did not have success in 2017, finishing ranked last in yards offensively and 31st in rushing. Andy Dalton was sacked 39 times after getting sacked 41 times in 2016.

But Alexander will undoubtedly have the most talented group of linemen he has had in his career in Dallas. He oversaw the development of Willie Anderson, a first-round pick in 1997, who became a five-time Pro Bowler. He also saw Andrew Whitworth become a Pro Bowl left tackle. Kevin Zeitler left the Bengals after the 2016 season for the richest free-agent deal ever given to a guard. Martin should top that figure this offseason or next.

The Cowboys felt they needed to move on from Pollack even though the rushing numbers in the six games without Elliott were still good enough to rank in the top 10. Pass protection was an issue. Dak Prescott was sacked 32 times, including 22 times in the final eight games of the season. The passing game took a major hit with Prescott not throwing for at least 200 yards in eight games.

Even with Smith on the field, there was a belief among some in the building that the pass protection was the biggest reason for the slide of the pass-game numbers, especially in the second half.

The Cowboys don’t need to overhaul their running game. However, they can add to the scheme with the addition of Alexander. Where Alexander needs to have the biggest impact is protecting Prescott.

The Cowboys believe if they can do that, they won’t be far off from playing in games like this weekend’s.

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In the back of their minds the Dallas Cowboys had to know this was coming with Ezekiel Elliott.

With the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday vacating the injunction that had allowed the Dallas Cowboys running back to play, Elliott is facing the six-game suspension that was handed down by the NFL in August for violating the personal conduct policy. And the Cowboys are facing life as a sub-.500 team trying to win games without their top offensive threat until the Nov. 30 meeting against the Washington Redskins.

Replacing Elliott will not be easy.

In last Sunday’s loss to the Green Bay Packers, he appeared to find his stride with 13 carries for 85 yards in the fourth quarter. He had 31 yards on 16 carries in the first three quarters, but Elliott — and maybe more importantly the coaches — found a number of runs that equaled success.

In the first four games and three quarters of the fifth game, the Cowboys’ running game was running into a wall. Their hope was the defenses would eventually wear down, but it did not happen enough.

Without Elliott, the Cowboys can’t rely on Alfred Morris, Rod Smith and Darren McFadden to wear down a defense in the same manner.

Singularly, they don’t have Elliott’s combination of speed, power, elusiveness and strength. Collectively, they might.

The Cowboys will have to go from a one-man band in the running game — Elliott has 105 of the 115 carries by Dallas running backs so far — to a committee.

Morris has eight carries for 87 yards but 70 came on one run against the Los Angeles Rams. He has three 1,000-yard seasons to his credit, but those were back in 2012-14 with the Washington Redskins. Since signing with the Cowboys as a free agent last year, he has had more than seven carries in a game just once. He is not much of a threat in the passing game.

McFadden has been inactive for the first five games, which has been a surprise because he was groomed in the summer to be Elliott’s replacement if the suspension had taken effect immediately. He was limited to three games a year ago because of a broken elbow, but in 2015 he had five 100-yard games and two games with more than 90 yards after becoming the Cowboys’ lead back six games into the season. He is most equipped, largely because of his experience, to handle multiple roles.

Smith is the wild card. He might be best suited to handle the full-time job but he has just four carries for 13 yards in his career. He has caught three passes for 28 yards. A year ago at this time, he was a fullback for the Cowboys.

Smith, who was a teammate of Elliott’s at Ohio State, runs with power, has decent speed and can catch the ball effectively. But he has never done it before.

Offensive coordinator Scott Linehan will have to do something he hasn’t done since coming to Dallas in 2014: mix different running backs throughout a game.

In 2014, DeMarco Murray carried 392 times to lead the NFL with 1,845 yards. Backup running back Joseph Randle’s 51 carries were the next highest total. In 2015, McFadden finished fourth in the NFL with 1,089 yards on 239 carries. Randle had 76 carries, which were second-most, but he did not have a carry after the sixth game. Last year, Elliott had 322 carries on his way to leading the league with 1,631 yards. Morris’ 69 carries were second most by a runner.

The Cowboys’ running game has not looked like what anybody expected coming into the season. Elliott has 393 yards on 105 carries, good for 3.7 yards a carry.

As they go forward likely without Elliott, the running game still won’t look like what anybody expected entering the season — but for entirely different reasons.