The Dallas Cowboys have not been in the NFC Championship Game in 25 years; let alone the Super Bowl. Yet the Cowboys are still the franchise that everyone is watching. The most valuable franchise and a ratings gun; no matter how good the squad is. This season, the Cowboys are in the spotlight even more, as the National Football League (NFL) has singled out the Cowboys for Hard Knocks. There will also be a new season of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders, but that completely aside.
Expectations were high last season. The Cowboys would definitely win the division and were seen as an outsider to make it to the Super Bowl. After five games, all hopes were gone. Not only because of a negative record at the time, but mainly because of Dak Prescott ‘s ankle injury. It ensured that the visor – as so often – could already go to next season.
The most important deal for the Cowboys was that of Prescott. The quarterback played under the franchise tag last season as club and player could not agree on a new contract. It caused a lot of unrest, because where did Prescott’s future lie? That’s clear now: in Dallas. Prescott signed a four-year, $160 million deal, so at least it’s clear that the Prescott is the man for the future.
The Cowboys had to sign their quarterback and 40 million a year is what it costs. It did mean that Dallas didn’t have much more to spend in free agency. The emphasis in the rest of the purchases was on defence. For example, outside linebacker Tarell Basham, defensive linemen Brent Urban and Carlos Watkins and safety Keanu Neal were signed. Neal alone, who may be used more as a linebacker, earns more than $4 million per season.
In contrast to the limited number of acquisitions, the club has succeeded in keeping the selection as good as complete. Cornerback Chidobe Awuzie was the only player with significant playing time to move to another club. He chose the Bengals’ offer over the Cowboys.
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The Cowboys seem to have learned from last year’s draft. Then the club chose CeeDee Lamb, a receiver, while the team was in need of defensive talent. This time, the Cowboys’ focus was on defense, as the first six players chosen were all defenders.
The first choice was Micah Parsons, a linebacker. The Cowboys even made a deal with the great Philadelphia rival to pick Parsons. After the coveted cornerbacks were already chosen in the top ten, the Cowboys went from pick 10 to 12 to get a third round pick. A good move, because at 12 Parsons was still available.
The question is whether linebacker was the biggest need in the Cowboys’ punctured defense, but Leighton Vander Esch, the current player in that position, has been injured so often that the choice of Parsons is certainly defensible. Especially because the rest of the draft also looked at the rest of the defense. Kelvin Joseph has to fill the gap at cornerback, while defensive linemen Osa Odighizuwa and Chauncey Golston were chosen in hopes of bolstering the run defense.
On day three, the Cowboys continued to pick mostly defenders. Players like Nahshon Wright and Israel Mukuamu are no guarantees to make the team or make a significant contribution next season. However, given the level of defense last season, it can’t hurt to draft players with potential. Given all the newcomers, they don’t all have to pass to make this draft a success. If one of the later choices becomes a solid player for the team, that is a nice boost.
The Cowboys’ offense has the potential to be the NFL’s best. Prescott was on track to throw for 6,000 yards before his injury. Despite the record, the offense was in top form. That is also allowed with one of the best receiver groups in the league. Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb and Michael Gallup can make it tough on any defense. It will be a weekly look at who gets the space and who can make the difference.
Opponents can’t ignore the run, as Ezekiel Elliott may have had a lesser season, but he still has the potential to be one of the best running backs. Prescott’s absence and injuries on the offensive line may have been the reason for his poor season. In that case there is a good chance that he will regain his old level.
The same goes for the offensive line. The two tackles, Tyron Smith and La’el Collins, came together to just two games. If they manage to stay fit this year, they should be able to ensure that the O-line returns to pre-2020 levels. That gives Prescott even more time and makes him even more dangerous; and that in an attack where it is hardly possible to point out a weak spot.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t apply to the defense. At the time of Prescott’s injury, the Dallas Cowboys had a 1-3 record; despite the quarterback’s great play. The reason was a dramatic defense. The Cowboys have recognized this themselves, because no fewer than fourteen new players were recruited for the defense.
At the same time, a new defensive coordinator arrived. Head coach Mike McCarthy had to blame someone for the bad season anyway and Mike Nolan fell victim to it. Not that he had done a good job, but it still feels a bit strange when a coach throws his assistant under the bus after a bad season. Now Dan Quinn has to save the furniture. As the founder of the Legion of Boom in Seattle, he has a reputation for being a defensive mastermind. In Atlanta, this didn’t work out. In fact, after he handed over the direction to Raheem Morris, the Falcons got better by the week.
The good fortune for Quinn is that the Cowboys’ defense doesn’t have to be good to get far this season. Given the attack, a mediocre defense should be enough to win the division. Maybe even win some play-offs. However, is it possible to put down a respectable defense? For that it is essential that DeMarcus Lawrence fulfills his fat contract. He is one of the few players with the potential to be a superstar in his position. Furthermore, it is mainly young, inexperienced players who form the defence. In Minnesota we have seen that this can take time.
The expectations for the Dallas Cowboys are sky high. Fortunately, this is nothing new for America’s Team. Every season the team is in the spotlight, but will they live up to it this season? In any case, it looks like McCarthy is already in his second year coaching to keep his job, as not everything can be blamed on Prescott’s injury. It didn’t go well enough for him in the line-up either.
If all goes well, this is a squad that can dethrone the Bucs, but what are the chances that everything goes well? That everyone stays fit? That the attack clicks and that the young players are there immediately? It is more likely that there will be some growth spurts in between and that Dallas will suffer some inexplicable defeats. Ultimately, it remains the NFC East, where you don’t have to win thirteen times for a division title. The Cowboys have the most talent and if Prescott can play all season they will win the division.