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The Cowboys have a window of opportunity this year

And it may well close immediately after.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys-OTA
If they don’t add one of these in 2019, it could be a while before another real chance opens up.
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Optimism usually runs high for fans of most NFL teams this time of year. A few may be disgruntled by the moves their team made in free agency and the draft (see: New York Giants), but most are excited by the new additions, or have a lot of faith in what they bring back, or both. The Dallas Cowboys have had some criticism for their draft, but it is balanced by how they used it to add Amari Cooper, the more aggressive than usual free agency period, and a roster that was already loaded with All Pro and Pro Bowl players. Many share the view of one former Cowboys great.

I have been known to view the world through blue and silver glasses while sipping on some Cowboys Kool Aid. And I do think this is the best opportunity the Cowboys have had in years, perhaps since the glory years of the early 1990s, to make a run at that elusive sixth Lombardi Trophy.

And it may be strictly a one-year shot.

There are several things that contribute to this idea. Which you no doubt are awaiting. I am all about the fan service, so here you go.

Unless you are a fan of that blasted team in the Boston area, windows are often very short

I don’t want to claim that Bill Belichick and Tom Brady have sold their souls to Satan to have the incredible run the New England Patriots are on. (I exclude Robert Kraft, because his priorities seem to have gone in a different direction.) I won’t argue against it, however. What is inarguable is that they are a unique combination that has paid incredible dividends.

The rest of the league just can’t duplicate that formula. Look at the recent history of Super Bowl winners outside of the Pats:

  • 2018 - Philadelphia Eagles. They failed to repeat, and have since failed to retain their SB MVP quarterback.
  • 2016 - Denver Broncos. They have gone nowhere since Peyton Manning hung it up.
  • 2014 - Seattle Seahawks. While they returned to the championship the following year, since losing that game, they have just been good but not great most years.
  • 2013 - Baltimore Ravens. It led them to riding Joe Flacco into mediocrity.
  • 2012 - New York Giants. After that, the team has been on a pretty steady trajectory to being the worst in the NFC East.
  • 2011 - Green Bay Packers. Mike McCarthy squandered arguably the best quarterback in the league the past decade.
  • 2010 - New Orleans Saints. Next to Belichick and Brady, Sean Payton and Drew Brees are probably the best head coach/quarterback pairing in the league. And that still hasn’t been enough to get them back to the big dance in a decade.

So history alone says that the window for 31 teams closes rapidly - if they can ever get it open in the first place.

The talent arcs favor the Cowboys - for now

Those All Pro and Pro Bowlers mentioned above are almost all either still at or near their prime, or still ascending. And the Cowboys have some other good, veteran players in the mix. The only two players who are really on the downside of their careers are Jason Witten and Sean Lee - and both have outstanding work ethics and incredible football savvy to contribute this season.

But for some, that will not last much longer. The years have taken a physical toll on Tyron Smith, and while he still is one of the best left tackles in the league, he also has missed games in recent seasons as the damage to his body piles up. Travis Frederick is of course still recovering from the GBS that cost him last season. Zack Martin and DeMarcus Lawrence are at the height of their talent, but time always wins, and there is no assurance they will still be playing at the same level even a year from now.

And contract considerations play a big role. One Cool Customer did a recent post on how many current players are on contracts that expire after this season. He rightfully points out that the team cannot keep all of them, and some of them are big names, like Jaylon Smith. Some hard decisions are looming, and it could negatively impact the overall talent in Dallas.

Countering that is how Dak Prescott just has three years under his belt. The team will get him extended, and his best years are ahead of him. The question is just how long the cast around him can be kept at a high level. The team does have some rising stars like Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch, and Cooper likely has several seasons left in his prime, but no team can retain all its best players in today’s free agency and salary cap environment.

And Ezekiel Elliott has been worked hard his first three seasons. There is always the question of when that will catch up to him. For both him and Prescott, this is a year when the team needs to capitalize on them.

It’s a contract year for Jason Garrett, too

We have seen how the head coach has done some of his best work under those conditions, in 2014 when he finally broke the string of 8-8 seasons and got the team into the playoffs.

If the Cowboys do not make a deep run this year, it is widely believed he will not be brought back. So you know Garrett is going to be doing everything he can to move the team forward. He has an extra challenge with new offensive coordinator Kellen Moore. Rookie OCs don’t often hit their stride right way.

And no matter who the team would replace him with, a first-year head coach is not likely to see great success. There will inevitably be changes in the scheme and approach, and those usually take more than a season to shake out. Even though many have wanted Garrett supplanted for years, it would almost certainly lead to a step back, at least at first.

So Garrett has to get it done now, or things get much, much harder. And even if he does do enough to keep his job, those other things still loom for the future.

The sum of these factors is that this is the time to go all in. There is a window here, even with Moore having to prove himself under fire. And it will not likely be as open in 2020.

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