With the NFL season officially underway, former Cowboys quarterback and current Fox broadcaster Troy Aikman sits down with Post columnist Steve Serby for some Q&A.
Q: What can or will Jason Garrett do for Daniel Jones?
A: Without having been with Jason as a coach, I do know this about Jason: he doesn’t just shoot from the hip. Whatever he’s asking Daniel Jones to do, it’s for a purpose, and there’s a reason for it. And knowing Jason’s philosophy, and how much I believe in that philosophy, I think it’s going to be a very quarterback-friendly system, to where he’s going to like the options that he has. I think it’s a great fit, I really do. Jason did a great job with (Tony) Romo when he stepped in, and brought him along when he was the coordinator, I think he did an outstanding job with Dak Prescott, and he’s got a great way about him in communicating. Daniel Jones being a real smart guy from Duke, and Jason is arguably the smartest guy I know from Princeton (laughs). I’m glad I’m not in that quarterback room.
Q: What were your impressions of Daniel Jones last season?
A: I like him. I watched his pro day on NFL Network, I was working out, and they happened to have the NFL Network on, and he was throwing, and I really liked what I saw. I liked the way the ball came out, I liked his placement, I like his size, I like all the measurables. But ultimately, most of these guys have that. I like everything about Daniel Jones. What has to get better — and we all know this — is he’s gotta hang onto the football. When you’re in the pocket, and the ball’s getting knocked out of your hand, there are times when you just simply cannot do anything about it. But I tend to fault the quarterbacks when the ball’s on the ground. . .you’ve got the ball and you’ve gotta protect it, and that has to be better. But other than that, I like everything I saw of Daniel Jones.
Q: Your second-year leap.
A: I’ll be honest, my second year is really when I hit rock bottom. I was 0-11 as a rookie, and then fortunately, we won our first game that second season, but we were 3-7 at one time. That was about as low as I could be in my 12-year career. I think what happens – – and Daniel Jones I’m sure is feeling this as well – – when you come in as a rookie, and you’re a first-round quarterback, the team was probably poor the year before. Dan Marino got to come in as a late first-rounder and go to a team that had come off a Super Bowl appearance. That’s kinda rare. So for me, the Cowboys were the worst team in football when I arrived in my rookie year, the Giants were not particularly good when Daniel got there. You come in, you play hard, you want to do the best you can, but you don’t really fully take ownership in your role in why the team’s bad. But then when you go into Year 2, then you start, or at least for me, I then had the mindset that hell, we gotta get going, or hell, I am part of the problem. And so we got off to a tough start, and it was hard. Fortunately from 3-7 on, my career took off, and then we started winning a lot of games and won (three) championships. I think that just going into a full offseason knowing all the things you didn’t know going into your rookie year, whether it’s getting to know your teammates better, you know the offense better, you know the league better, you know defenses better. . . you just have a better understanding of all the things now that are required to play at a high level.
Q: What advice would you have for Daniel Jones?
A: I don’t think he needs any advice, quite honestly. He’s a really smart guy. I’m excited about him. I like him a lot, I really do. I think he’s gonna be a really good player in this league.
Q: What are your thoughts on Sam Darnold?
A: I haven’t watched him enough. I loved him when he was coming out in the draft. I worked that draft, I still have my notes to this day because I want to be able to go back and see how it all unfolded when the stories are totally written. I had Sam as my top quarterback. I think he’s in a position right now where they’re still working on getting a lot of other things in place. And as soon as that happens, I expect him to really flourish.
Q: Thoughts on Tom Brady?
A: There were a lot of critics last year, I was not one of ‘em. I think Drew (Brees) is in this category, too. There’s not as many quarterbacks as you would think who in my opinion really understand the position in terms of situations, and all that goes into winning a football game. There’s a difference between playing with a 10-point lead and playing with a four-point lead, or playing from down 14 points. You just don’t play every snap the same way, and I think Tom last year was terrific in he had a great defense, they ran the ball OK, but he played to the strengths of that team in order to win games. I’ve seen Tom when he’s had no protection whatsoever and he’d come out of the game and he didn’t give up a sack, and yet he was hit 20 times, and he just refuses to make a bad play. I believe that now, in Tampa, he has a much better supporting cast around him than he had a year ago in New England, and I think he’ll take advantage of those players and their ability.
Q: How do you see the marriage of Mike McCarthy and Jerry Jones in Dallas?
A: I think it’s the best hire the Cowboys could have made. I didn’t think that hire would take place. I didn’t know if McCarthy would find it to be a good fit. Think about it, he goes from Green Bay, where there is no owner — or at least they’re publicly owned — to then the Cowboys, where the owner’s more visible than any other owner in sports. So that’s a big jump, if you’re kinda used to being the face of the organization – – you can argue it’s Aaron Rodgers — but Mike McCarthy had autonomy in what his messaging was to the team, and when you get accustomed to that for 13 years, to then coming to Dallas, it’s different. I wasn’t sure that Mike would view it as a great fit for him, and I didn’t know if the Cowboys would feel that Mike was a great fit for them. The beneficiary is going to be the Cowboys, but second to that, I think Mike’s gonna be great for Dak Prescott.
Q: How do you see the Cam Newton-Bill Belichick marriage?
A: I think it’s gonna be great, I really do. I think Bill understands people. I think he knows how to handle the various personalities, which is another reason why he’s been able to bring in other players, and nobody could understand, “Oh well they fit in great in New England, why couldn’t they fit elsewhere?” I’m not suggesting that’s Cam. That’s just an illustration as to how Bill was able to do that. And I think it’s great for Cam. Cam’s a flamboyant guy, and a lot of charisma, he’s a showman. But I think part of that has been that he’s felt a lot of pressure to maybe have to do more than he has to do. I think it’s gonna be good for him to be in a place where he can just play quarterback, I don’t know that he’s been given the opportunity to just do that, or if he’s felt comfortable enough that he can just do that.
Q: You’ve got Bucs-Saints for FOX on Sunday – – broadcasting with no fans. And playing with no fans.
A: I’m as interested as anybody to kinda find out what this is like. I didn’t get a preseason game either to get a feel for it, and we’re going through some changes. Nobody cares about the changes that we’re going through, nor should they. When I watch the games, whether it’s baseball or basketball, hockey, as a viewer, I don’t sense that there’s no fans in the stands. It feels like I’m watching a game like I would at any other time. And I believe that’ll be the case for fans watching the NFL. I don’t know if that’ll be the case necessarily for me calling the game, because I’ll be seeing that there’s no fans, but I will be hearing some crowd noise that’ll be piped in, and that will really help. For the players, I don’t know. . .I think that they’re accustomed now to having practice without any fans being at the practices, whereas with training camp in the past, they would have fans there. I think this is a bit of an unknown for them as well as far as how they’ll feel playing in those games, especially the games like what we have. You think about when the schedule came out, and Tampa sees that they’re on the road against divisional rival at New Orleans, you’re saying, “Oh gosh, what a tough place to kick off the season” with such optimism that they have. Then you realize there’s no fans . . .I know there’s a lot of varying opinions on this, but I think that that’s not advantage, Tampa Bay, but that’s a disadvantage to New Orleans from what they’re accustomed to. And there’s a handful of stadiums, Seattle being another one, but there’s others that have a decisive home-field advantage when they have their fans at the games that they won’t get to have that now.
Q: Do you have a Super Bowl pick?
A: My Super Bowl pick would be Kansas City from the AFC and then New Orleans. I pick Kansas City for obvious reasons, they have the most dynamic player in football (Patrick Mahomes), and feeling really good about themselves, and I think that goes a long way. The Super Bowl hangover, I thought it to be the opposite. I felt like we (Cowboys) had a decisive advantage the following season early in the year because we had such an optimistic outlook on ourselves. Because of the continuity of the Saints, their roster is back pretty much, and with (Sean) Payton and Brees. But, if I was picking an NFC Championship game, I think that we’re seeing it this Sunday. And rarely have we seen teams with such high hopes see it all the way through, but Tampa Bay, barring injury, should be right there at the end.