The offseason is also the optimism season in the NFL, as almost every fanbase points to the factors that are going to make this year better (or in the case of the reigning Lombardi Trophy holder, why they will be back). That is certainly true for those of us who follow the Dallas Cowboys. They have finally made a much-needed move on the coaching staff, the team is young and talented, and there are not many crying needs to fill on the roster.
As was mentioned, however, almost all fans have something similar to bolster their hopes. Yet every year, things just go wrong for many, if not most, teams. They are things either unforeseen or, more commonly, just ignored. Murphy is always lurking with his law, though.
So casting aside my normal hopeful view, here are four possible things that could go wrong in Dallas, all of which could make for a very unpleasant year.
The DLaw re-signing goes awry
Keeping the services of defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence is the number one priority for free agency. Given the relatively abundant cap space the team has this season, it is expected that the Joneses will not let this one get away.
That fish isn’t landed yet, and it is one of the biggest ones in this year’s free agent group, with many lists having him number one. This creates something of a quandary for Jerry Jones. He can go big to get a deal done before Lawrence hits the market, or he can risk someone making him an offer and starting a bidding war.
Don’t forget something very important: Lawrence can do whatever he wants. We assume he is happy with the Cowboys, but what if he would be happier somewhere else?
This puts at least some pressure on Dallas to not be too firm in negotiations. If Lawrence feels like he is not being respected, or the team is playing too much hardball, he can simply cut off negotiating and let it be known he is ready to entertain offers. The Cowboys’ only real leverage here is to use the franchise tag again, but that is both expensive (it would be about $20.6 million for a second consecutive tag) and would risk alienating Lawrence, who took the first year with good grace. But there is always a risk he could go all Le’Veon Bell and hold out.
It still looks like a new contract will get done. It’s just not a certainty.
Fredbeard may not come back at full strength
Maybe it was because it happened before the season even started, but it is sometimes overlooked that the loss of center Travis Frederick to Guillain-Barré syndrome was the biggest personnel issue of 2018. The Cowboys’ scheme is founded on their offensive line, and Frederick is certainly a key part of that. Given that the team was introducing rookie Connor Williams at left guard, and it can be argued that Frederick’s role was the most important this past season.
Now, we are all hoping that he will be back and his old self to start 2019. The problem is, medical issues are not always predictable. And this is a lot more complex than something like an ACL tear or a shoulder separation that has been dealt with repeatedly over the years. GBS was a real threat to Frederick’s career. There have been nothing but positive reports on his recovery, but until he is at least in the offseason conditioning program, there is no hard data. We really won’t know for sure until he takes the field, and it may not be until the first regular season game that the answer is definitive. We just have to cross our fingers. If he is at all limited from what he has been in the past, it will affect the entire offense.
For that matter, we can’t be sure he will be cleared to play for that first game. And that is a scary proposition.
Dak and the new offensive staff
This may seem a bit far-fetched, but in case you haven’t noticed, this article is all about unleashing you inner paranoiac. The ascension of Kellen Moore to OC and the addition of Jon Kitna are believed to be very positive for Dak Prescott. But what if they aren’t?
Now, before you throw rocks at your screen, this is strictly a devil’s advocate/worst-case scenario kind of thing, and I most assuredly do not think this is going to be the case. But what if Prescott doesn’t handle the expected new wrinkles well? What if he just can’t make the corrections to his footwork and technique that Kitna has discussed in videos posted on social media? What if, to coin a phrase, he just isn’t who we think he is?
It is an NFL truism that your quarterback is the most important player you put on the field. The Cowboys are all in on Dak now. They could be forced into going a different direction, but that would be an expensive and hardly certain way to go. If the offense is going to get better, Prescott is the funnel things have to go through. If he struggles, everything struggles.
Again, let me say that I do not expect this to be an issue. But Murphy is out there.
We have to hope the offensive issues were really with Linehan, not Garrett
All three of the previously mentioned possible stumbling blocks have a lot of evidence to make them seem rather unlikely. But the question of just where the issues with the offense really originated is one we are having to guess on quite a bit. The Cowboys’ offensive scheme is one overseen at a minimum by Jason Garrett, and we really don’t know how much of the conservative, predictable, and at times downright stubborn approach was on Scott Linehan, and how much may have been a result of his marching orders from Garrett. That is a bit disconcerting.
It might seem a stretch to say that Linehan may have been a case of scapegoating. But the shakeup to the offensive staff just a year ago certainly looked like that was the case then. That time it was to Linehan’s benefit, and subsequent events showed that the team could have been better served by not waiting until this year to part ways.
Now we have to find out if Garrett is indeed able to change his ways. He has shown an ability to run a pass-first offense in the past, but that was before the team brought in Ezekiel Elliott and invested so much in the O line to be dominant. Garrett definitely was deeply involved in that evolution. We just don’t know how much he will be willing to move away from that. He has to listen to Moore about new ideas and concepts. But Moore is inexperienced, and has never known a head coach other than Garrett. If push comes to shove, it is no question that Garrett would win without intervention from above.
A contract extension for Garrett has been put on the shelf and created a make-or-break season for him. Garrett has done rather well in those situations in the past. But that doesn’t tell us just what he is willing to do this time. If he is open to his coordinator, things could all work out. But if he believes that running into a loaded box is still a path to success, and pushes for those kinds of calls, then trouble is likely ahead.
Those are my four biggest areas where problems could create another unsuccessful season for the Cowboys. I certainly hope I am just seeing phantoms.