This season has been broken for about a month now for the Dallas Cowboys, so much so that many fans welcomed the bye week. Losing can bring with it an obvious negative energy and that has definitely been the case at times for the 2020 version of America’s Team. This is a unique season in many ways, but the Cowboys have been beaten up and injured from the very jump. In just about every way this season feels like it never got a chance to get off of the ground.
When the team returns from their off week there will be seven games left, and while there is still technically a legitimate path to them to get into the playoffs by way of the subpar NFC East, it seems like this team’s best odds are for 2021 and beyond.
Considering this to be the case, the remainder of this year is about one thing for the Cowboys (besides ensuring the highest possible draft pick... here’s what they need in Week 10 in order for that to happen) and that is data collection.
Some questions are answered about the future already, but some still hover. Here are three that we will be looking to answer over the coming months.
Could Dalton Schultz - and not Blake Jarwin - be the tight end of the future for the Cowboys?
Blake Jarwin was lost for the season during the opening game back against the Los Angeles Rams which immediately put a question mark around the tight end spot. Dallas paid Jarwin over the offseason and finally said a firm goodbye to Jason Witten, so to see the heir apparent not even get a legitimate shot was a bit of a bummer.
Dalton Schultz was drafted by the team in the immediate days after Witten’s retirement in 2018. National pundits speculated that the team was addressing the future of the position by acquiring him but bright minds knew better and that Jarwin had a better chance of succeeding long-term.
This idea may not have changed, but Dalton Schultz has absolutely looked like a starting-caliber tight end in the NFL. When everything is back to normal from an injury standpoint, this team figures to operate mostly out of 11 personnel which only leaves room for one tight end. Who would you want that to be at present time?
Again, this isn’t trying to give away Jarwin’s job after he didn’t exactly get a chance to defend it, but Schultz has been one of the few bright spots on offense as a whole this year. Ultimately this situation will likely boil down to the Cowboys having a bit of a full cupboard up top at tight end in 2021, but it is worth mentioning that next season is the last of Schultz’s rookie contract.
Dallas might not have to make a decision on Schultz’s long-term future with the team in the offseason, but this season is giving them a lot of information to use when that time finally presents itself.
What is the full extent that the team is willing to trust Mike McCarthy?
There have certainly been times where each of us has been frustrated with the team’s new head coach in Mike McCarthy, but it is certainly not difficult to arrive to the conclusion that he has hardly had a fair shake during his first year at the helm of the most visible team in professional sports.
When McCarthy signed up to be this team’s head coach, Travis Frederick was still his starting center. Fast forward a whole hodgepodge of chaos and the unit he meets every day is a shell of the one that served as the center of many offseason pieces predicting them to be Super Bowl contenders.
Assuming you are in agreement here, we all understand that this year is a bit of a mulligan for Mike McCarthy, but to the point at hand it obviously still counts. The Cowboys made the mistake of hitching themselves to Jason Garrett year after year because they couldn’t properly assess what millions of their fans could, the least they can do with McCarthy’s situation is evaluate how much room for error they truly want to give him.
Results aside, McCarthy now has had one draft class to work with and one free agency group to acquire. His teachings and philosophies can still show up regardless of what the team’s record is and so it is certainly possible to grade his first year with the team.
The brain-trust of the Cowboys has to figure out now, when they are not emotionally compromised, what the requirement needs to be of McCarthy and what the timeframe is on it. Will the group revisit things in a year, after his first draft class’ rookie contracts end, if the team finishes below .500 again, or what?
That question needs to be answered and more importantly needs to be utilized over the coming seasons.
What tenured veterans are playing their last games with the club?
As noted there are a number of familiar faces absent from starting lineups, but before all of that happened there were several members of the team that have been around when it was debatable whether or not they should be.
It feels like the book is out on guys like Jaylon Smith, but that is a different type of decision. 2021 might finally be the time for the Cowboys to say farewell to players like Tyrone Crawford and Chris Jones as they have held on for far too long there and ignored improving for the sake of either complacency or downright refusal.
We have seen the Cowboys devote snaps to younger players in recent weeks and that has shown strong results so far in someone like Neville Gallimore. It obviously isn’t easy to wave the white flag and say that you are treating an entire half of a season like an exhibition period, but the situation is what the situation is.
The time for procrastination has come and gone. As disappointing as this season is, it now provides the organization with an opportunity to ask themselves some hard questions and take the proper time to answer them. The future literally depends on the Cowboys looking under all of these rocks, and the flaws that existed within the team back in 2017 showed an example of how they didn’t take proper advantage of the last opportunity that they had like this in 2015.
It is time for data collection.