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DALLAS -- Maybe we've misunderstood Jerry Jones, which wouldn't be the first time. Maybe there's a valid explanation for these meetings with Jason Garrett. Short of a covert trial by jury, I couldn't imagine.

Whatever the reason, he'll eventually do what he has to do. Too much negativity to let it go any further, as Jimmy Johnson said last month. Fans and media can't talk or write about anything else. The customers want someone's head, and it's not going to be Jerry's. If Garrett's sacrifice satisfies, the owner will oblige.

Because as Jimmy said last month, and Jimmy should know, "I think Jerry listens to the fans."

Jerry doesn't listen as much to the media, but it hasn't stopped us from making suggestions, so here we go again.

The next head coach's first order of business is to fix this defense. They need help up front and, as always, on the back end. What they need more than anything, though, is a grounding in fundamentals. Basic stuff. Like tackling. And lining up.

Looking at you, Michael Bennett.

In his brief tenure, Bennett proved to be the classic Cowboy. Played hard and made some big plays.

And then he'd blow everything up by jumping offsides.

Frankly, you didn't need a Hall of Fame quarterback or a wiz-bang play-caller to beat the Cowboys.

Just a hard snap count.

Hard to say exactly where the Cowboys' defense went wrong this year. Except for Byron Jones and Jeff Heath, of all people, everyone who was here the year before went backwards. Coincidence? The definition of poor coaching, if you ask me. Maybe Rod Marinelli and Kris Richard simply didn't mix well. Whatever the reason, the only area more disappointing than the Cowboys' defense was on special teams, which were awful. And as Jerry famously said after the loss in Foxborough, special teams are all about coaching.

The new coach should probably sweep out the defensive staff. On offense, not so much. At least Kellen Moore, Jon Kitna and Sanjay Lal look like keepers.

But no matter who's in charge of the offense, the priority is clear: Make sure Dak Prescott uses his feet more often. It's all the rage these days. Lamar Jackson practically reinvented the quarterback position this season, enhancing the Ravens' Super Bowl chances.

I don't want to get too analytical for you, but when quarterbacks run it turns the numbers in the offense's favor. College coaches get it and the NFL has been trying to catch up with its farm system for years.

When it comes to quarterbacks, this isn't your father's NFL anymore. The league has searched high and low for the next Tom Brady. Maybe there isn't one. Probably too difficult, given the efficiency of defenses. Well, except for the Cowboys'.

Dak has the prerequisites to rank with the NFL's new breed. He just needs a green light. Or a good shove.

And for those who still maintain you'll just get your QB hurt by turning him loose: New rules remove most of the danger. Besides, it's just as scary standing in a crumbling pocket and taking a blindside hit.

Speaking of Dak, he gets a new contract. Sorry if that loses you.

As for the rest of the Cowboys' 30 free agents, consider these as priority decisions:

Robert Quinn? Yes, unless you can find 11.5 sacks somewhere else. And it might keep Jerry from thinking he can get it from Randy Gregory.

Amari Cooper? Yes, if he was playing hurt this season. No, if he wasn't.

Randall Cobb? No. Good slot receivers aren't hard to find.

Byron Jones? Yes. They need help at cornerback as is. Try finding two good ones.

Sean Lee? No. Meet your new linebackers coach.

Jason Witten? No. Meet your new tight ends coach.

Blake Jarwin? Yes. Maliek Collins? No. Antwaun Woods? Yes.

Michael Bennett? Uh, no.

And if there's any money left over, trade for the Jets' Jamal Adams, who finally gives the Cowboys the kind of safety they haven't had since Darren Woodson called it quits. You would hope by now that the Joneses get it. Maybe safeties don't make that much difference. But bad ones do. Great ones, too. Adams certainly qualifies among the latter.

Depending on what's available at any time in the draft, by the way, the priorities should be safety, defensive line, cornerback, tight end and wide receiver. If the Cowboys don't re-sign Cooper, wide receiver moves near the top.

Just a few suggestions to mull while considering a makeover.

Sports on 01/04/2020

Print Headline: Fixing defense a priority for Cowboys

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