The Dallas Cowboys are going to be making some changes this offseason after all. Despite head coach Jason Garrett saying during a radio appearance earlier this week that he expected offensive coordinator Scott Linehan to return for the 2019 season, the Cowboys officially announced on Friday that Linehan and the team have mutually agreed to part ways, ending his five-year stint in Dallas.
Linehan spent the last four seasons as offensive coordinator, and was the passing game coordinator in 2014. His five seasons in Dallas included three playoff appearances, and playoff wins following the Cowboys' 13-3 campaign in 2014 and their 10-6 season in 2018. The Cowboys won the division in each of those seasons (as well as in 2016) behind strong rushing attacks, led first by DeMarco Murray and then by Ezekiel Elliott. Linehan's early years with the Cowboys saw him scheme players like Murray, Tony Romo, Dez Bryant, and Jason Witten into position for success, and he was even credited with helping then-rookies Elliott and Dak Prescott take the league by storm in 2016.
But over the past two years, Linehan's offense increasingly began to feel archaic. As other teams around the league adapted to the modern game, Linehan continued running a lot of the same things he always ran. Prescott was increasingly asked to make more and more difficult throws, culminating this year when 17.7 percent of his passes were thrown into tight coverage, per NFL.com's NextGen Stats.
Several current and former Cowboys receivers criticized Linehan's route combinations over the past couple years, most notably Dez Bryant, but also Allen Hurns (who said Linehan called the worst possible play against a certain coverage during an early-season loss, and said Linehan needed to "tighten up") and (indirectly) Amari Cooper and Prescott himself, who had to change one of Linehan's calls in the huddle after a play called for Cooper to run a comeback route the Eagles had been sitting on all game. The changed route so fooled the Eagles that Cooper walked in for a 75-yard touchdown.
As the Ringer's Robert Mays showed earlier this season, the Cowboys' predictable comeback routes were often a source of the team's offensive malaise, and, well, Linehan just kept calling them. Linehan's five years in Dallas included a season where he worked under Bill Callahan, who called the plays in 2014. The rest of his tenure was marked by extreme ups and downs.
Despite having a quarterback who excels in RPO and quick-game concepts, the Cowboys' offense did not at all resemble those of the teams who have schemed those types of quarterbacks into success, and so it's not surprising that they have decided to move on from Linehan heading into the final year of Prescott's rookie contract. Frankly, it was more surprising that they didn't move on after last season.
It's not yet know whom the Cowboys will target to take Linehan's place, but they badly need someone who will modernize the offense to play to the strengths of their quarterback, account for the (moderate) decline of the team's offensive line, and put players like Cooper, Elliott, and rookie wideout Michael Gallup in position to succeed. The Cowboys may have to incorporate some more new pieces next season with slot man Cole Beasley and gadget weapon Tavon Austin headed for free agency, Hurns on the mend after suffering a brutal injury during the Cowboys' playoff opener, and Terrance Williams presumably on his way out of town. They'd do best to find someone who has a vision for what kind of players will best help Prescott reach his potential, because that's what the future of the Dallas franchise is likely to be hitched to, given Jerry Jones' recent comments about the young quarterback's value.