Jason Garrett is making excuses

Jason Garrett rarely just says what he means while he stands behind his personal podium at press conferences. He typically either avoids issues with lengthy non-answers that sound intellectual or forces folks to read between the lines.

So let's read between the lines from Garrett's Dallas Cowboys postmortem press conference Monday: His first full season as a head coach was really all about cleaning up GM Jerry Jones' mess.

OK, that might be taking it too far in an attempt to get something interesting out of Garrett, but he clearly wanted this season to be remembered as a rebuilding year, even though he never uttered the R-word.

"Well, we've said it right from the outset, we made some decisions in our organization where we moved on from some older players that probably would have given us maybe a better chance to win right now because we wanted to take it in a different direction," said Garrett, whose favorite phrase for the day was "growing pains."

No, Jason, you actually didn't say that right from the outset. This bull about a rebuilding season is revisionist history.

See, we actually remember what you say when you stand behind that podium. (Even when our eyelids droop, our tape recorders keep rolling.) When the ax fell on center Andre Gurode, the last of the big-name, big-buck veterans to get the boot, the rationale coming from the red-headed head coach wasn't about rebuilding.

"We felt like it was the best move for us right now," Garrett said when Gurode got cut. "There's nothing purposeful in saying, 'We've got to get rid of all the old guys and sign all the young guys.' That's not what we're thinking. We're just trying to make our team as good as it can be right now."

Sure, finances were a factor in the decisions to get rid of Marion Barber, Marc Colombo, Leonard Davis, Roy Williams and Gurode. The Cowboys didn't want to pay big money to guys who couldn't play anymore. (How the heck did cornerback Terence Newman survive?!)

It's disingenuous of Garrett to refer to those guys as "Pro Bowl-type players" on Monday while discussing the "hard decisions" the Cowboys had to make to move on from them.

C'mon, man. Which one of those five would have made a difference for an 8-8 Dallas team?

The only one you can even make a case for is Gurode -- a five-time Pro Bowler whose trips the previous two seasons were based solely on reputation -- but that's because the Cowboys made a major misevaluation when they thought Phil Costa could be a starting center.

If Gurode was still any good, he would have found a starting job somewhere instead of landing in Baltimore as a backup who filled in for five games at guard. Costa didn't suffer growing pains; he's just not good enough, which is why the Cowboys need to find an upgrade at center this offseason.

All you need to know about Davis is that he was unemployed until November and doesn't dress out on game days for the Detroit Lions, who start former Dallas draft bust Stephen Peterman at one guard spot. The Cowboys should have replaced Davis with Montrae Holland last season.

The Cowboys made major upgrades after getting rid of those other three veterans.

All due respect to Colombo, an extremely tough guy with great work ethic whose injury history caught up to him last year, but he never had a tenth of Tyron Smith's talent. The Cowboys went from having one of the league's worst starting right tackles to one of the best the second they selected Smith with the ninth overall pick.

Barber has been at best just a guy since the Cowboys gave him a $45 million deal. That continued this season in Chicago, when he rushed for 422 yards and made a couple of boneheaded mistakes that cost the Bears a win over the Broncos. DeMarco Murray rushed for more yards in an injury-shortened rookie campaign than Barber has in the last two seasons combined.

Williams might be the biggest trade bust in franchise history, and it's only debatable because Jerry foolishly gave up two first-round picks for Joey Galloway back in the day. The Cowboys went from one of the NFL's worst bang-for-buck receivers in Williams to one of the best bargains in Laurent Robinson.

So please spare us the not-so-subtle hints that the reason the Cowboys are playoff spectators is because they got rid of some good players to get their financial books in orders this summer.

That's even sillier than Jerry's belief that the Cowboys could have made a Super Bowl run if they had just managed to beat the New York Giants with the NFC East title on the line.

The most obvious growing pains for the Cowboys this season occurred on the sideline. Garrett, who continued as the offensive coordinator in his first full season as a head coach, played a key role in blowing four games.

He was way too aggressive as a playcaller while the Detroit Lions rallied from a road-record 24-point deficit. He was way too conservative to give the New England Patriots a chance to steal that game down the stretch. He had major clock-management gaffes in consecutive close losses to the Arizona Cardinals and Giants.

Yet the Cowboys still had a chance to make the playoffs on the final night of the season, fueling the owner/general manager's delusions about a team with one win over a .500 or better opponent being a contender.

"When we kicked off at 8:30, we had a great opportunity if we won that ballgame to be NFC East champs," Garrett said. "We didn't get that done. There's no excuse for that."

Garrett is right about that, but all the revisionist history about rebuilding sure sounds like an excuse.

Tim MacMahon covers the Cowboys for ESPNDallas.com.