Eagles least of Cowboys' concerns

IRVING, Texas -- Here's the cold, harsh truth about Sunday's prime-time matchup between NFC East rivals: This game is only relevant if the Dallas Cowboys find a way to lose to a Philadelphia Eagles team that hasn't won since September.

That would be the kind of loss that kills what little hope remains -- for the Cowboys' slim chance to make the playoffs, and for the slimmer possibility that Jason Garrett is the right guy to coach this team for the foreseeable future.

Sure, the Eagles must be the sole focus for the Cowboys' coaches and players this week, but Philadelphia frankly isn't a team worth worrying about in the big picture. The Eagles won't be until they figure out how to fill the voids they have at the two most important positions in the NFL: quarterback and head coach.

The Eagles no longer keep Jerry Jones up at night, unlike the NFC East's other two teams.

The recent past has been painful for Jerry, as he has had to watch the New York Giants win two Super Bowls in the past five years with Eli Manning under center and Tom Coughlin on the sideline. The future is frightening, with Robert Griffin III and Mike Shanahan teaming up to make the Washington Redskins a respectable foe on the rise.

You really think a Tony Romo/Garrett duo can compete against those pairs?

Jerry isn't ready to say this on the record, but the painful reality seemed to hit him while he watched RG3 put together a highlight reel at the Cowboys' expense on Thanksgiving Day.

The man who spent the whole offseason obsessing about catching the Giants appeared to realize that the Redskins had caught up to the Cowboys and were about to blow by them like Washington receiver Aldrick Robinson running by a play-action-biting secondary if something drastic didn't change.

It's not like Jerry hid his fear well. All hope had been flushed from his face. He couldn't come up with a reason that wasn't "hollow" to be encouraged about the team's direction under Garrett. And he repeatedly admitted being "in awe" of the Redskins' rookie quarterback.

"I just think hopefully we won't have to play RG3 but one more time," Jerry said, his response to a question about whether the 5-6 Cowboys could finish the season strong. "I'd hate to think we were going to have to line up against him five or six times."

Nope, Dallas will just have to deal with the dude 20 or 30 times over the next 10 or 15 years.

Oh, and 31-year-old Manning, the QB who has haunted the Cowboys the most during Romo's tenure as a starter, probably has plenty of prime left, too.

Jerry might have his son-in-law clean his rose-colored glasses and envision Romo as being in those quarterbacks' class. (Hey, Romo's numbers compare favorably to Manning's, with the exception of those pesky playoff wins.)

But if Jerry really wants to see Romo succeed, he better get a Super Bowl-quality head coach to help him. There just so happen to be a couple of proven winners available (Sean Payton and Mike Holmgren) who are good friends of Jerry's.

There's no way even the biggest Garrett fan, which Jerry has been, can even consider him close to being a peer of Coughlin and Shanahan, both of whom have won two Super Bowl rings as head coaches and another as assistants.

Not after watching the Cowboys regress the past two seasons, as this team trends in the wrong direction in the two categories most directly correlated with the quality of Garrett's work: win-loss records and point totals.

And not after watching Garrett's Cowboys look woefully unprepared for critical games against Coughlin's Giants and Shanahan's Redskins over the past month. (Not to mention the no-show against the Giants in last season's de facto NFC East title game.)

Plus, a mediocre head coach is much, much easier to replace than a franchise quarterback. Jerry knows that as well as anyone, having struck out with a bunch of ex-baseball players and washed-up veterans in the dead period between Troy Aikman and Romo.

The Cowboys' commitment to Romo remains as strong as ever. It's a good bet that he'll have a fresh contract extension in the four-year range finished by the time the Cowboys report to training camp next summer.

The question is, which head coach will be roaming the fields in Oxnard, Calif.?

The possibility of former Dallas assistant Payton, a Bill Parcells protégé with perhaps the most brilliant offensive mind in football, returning to the Cowboys grows more likely every day that he doesn't agree to a new deal with the New Orleans Saints. The 64-year-old Holmgren wouldn't be a long-term solution, but he's a pretty strong Plan B to give Romo a chance to get the most out of the remainder of his prime.

Or the Cowboys could go with the status quo, opting for the continuity of mediocrity, and let their friends in Washington and New York fight for NFC East supremacy for the next several years.

Speaking of which, for a relevant prime-time game, look no further than Redskins-Giants on Monday night.