Garrett slowly building a winner

IRVING, Texas -- This offseason, owner Jerry Jones has discussed the Dallas Cowboys' window of opportunity closing.

So has DeMarcus Ware.

Tony Romo seems unsure whether the window is open or closing. All Romo knows is the Cowboys must play with a greater sense of urgency.

All that's fine unless you consider it's hard to fathom the Cowboys' window closing, when it hasn't been open in more than a decade.

Not really. Not if we're honest.

Since 1997, the Cowboys have been faux contenders. They're 120-120 with one playoff win. They have had just four seasons with double-digit wins -- none in consecutive seasons -- and have just three NFC East titles (1998, 2007 and 2009).

And they're not contenders this season, which is OK because Jason Garrett has a vision for this team.

He knows exactly what type of team he wants -- one that is physical on both lines of scrimmage, and plays with poise and passion -- and it takes time to build.

To Garrett, everything is a process, especially building this team to be a consistent winner.

As the Mavs and Rangers have shown us, shortcuts don't exist when building perennial winners. Garrett accepts that notion, and a combination of his persuasive skills and some good luck has the Cowboys ascending.

Slowly and steadily.

The Cowboys are 13-11 with Garrett as their head coach. Eight of the losses have been by six points or fewer, including seven by four points or fewer.

Garrett understands you absolutely can't rush the process, and he's persuaded Jones to follow his lead.

Nnamdi Asomugha, 31, would have been a splashy free-agent signing last year, but by the time his contract ended, he wouldn't have had nearly the impact on the Cowboys as 26-year-old Brandon Carr.

The NFL is a young man's game. Now, more than ever.

Look at the methodical way Garrett has stripped trusted veterans such as Kyle Kosier, Andre Gurode, Bradie James and Terence Newman off the roster. Look at the way key starters such as Leonard Davis, Marion Barber and Roy Williams, who cost Jerry a bushel of draft picks and a chunk of the family fortune, are no longer on the team.

Clearly, Garrett is obsessed with putting together a team of the right kind of guys who play the game the right way.

Look at the free agents the Cowboys signed in the offseason. Aside from Carr, there wasn't a sexy name in the group. Garrett, you see, wants substance over style, which had not been the Cowboys' way during the previous 17 years of the Jerry era.

We're talking about an owner who has signed Deion Sanders and Terrell Owens as free agents, and traded two first-round picks for Joey Galloway and Roy Williams.

He loves splash.

These Cowboys have stars in Ware, Romo, Jason Witten and Jay Ratliff, but this team needs more quality among its top 30 players.

It's obvious Garrett is trying to address it. See, a plan.

The Cowboys, as currently constructed, aren't good enough to beat the Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants in the NFC East.

They were 0-4 against those two teams last season, and it's difficult to envision them going better than 1-3 against the Giants and Eagles this season.

The Eagles are too talented, and the Giants have mastered the ability to make plays at winning time.

The Cowboys fade in the fourth quarter, blowing five leads last season. And they were 1-4 in December and January during their annual late-season swoon.

Actually, the Cowboys could easily be a better team and not win as many games because they play the AFC North and NFC South, a couple of quality divisions, this season.

When the season ends, it's doubtful the Cowboys will have doubled their playoff win total from the previous 17 seasons, but they'll be a lot closer to ridding the label of faux contender.