The Dallas Cowboys come out of their bye week tied for dead last in the NFC East and still in position for a top five draft pick. They also remain in the thick of the race for the division “crown” and an automatic playoff berth. It could go either way, or just see them land somewhere a bit lower in the draft order. So what is really best for the team in the long run? Are they better off trying to capitalize on what looks like a fairly weak schedule for the rest of the season, or would it work out better to stay in the basement? Our Tom Ryle and Terence Watson try to figure it out.
Tom: While I was pretty convinced a few weeks back that this season was over and done for the Cowboys, I did not anticipate just how horrendous the rest of the division would be. After a week to reflect on things, my thinking has changed. It is time for them to buckle down and fight all the way for that playoff spot.
Part of the reason I feel that way comes down to Herm Edwards’ sentiment, “you play to win the game.” It is what the players all expect, because wins and losses are personal to them. They would much rather walk off the field knowing that, for a day at least, they proved themselves better than the other guys. Don’t even mention tanking to them.
Hand in hand with that is the building of a new culture by Mike McCarthy and his staff. Just going through the motions to improve draft position hardly sets a good foundation. No, for me, there is no other choice. More importantly, winning the division under the incredibly trying circumstances they have faced would lead to more benefit for the team than being higher in the draft order. This is not looking like a stellar class at the top, anyway.
Terence: It’s true you play to win the game, but when have you ever seen a team with so much talent ravaged by injuries? A team that while still giving it their all on the field has a shot at getting a high draft pick, high enough that they have a chance to pick up a real impact player who can reshape a defense or offense depending on which way they went. Just take a look at what the last time the Cowboys had a pick that high, we were able to get two franchise players in Ezekiel Elliott and Dak Prescott.
You also have another option with this high draft pick and that’s trading it for more picks in the 2021 draft and future drafts. The Cowboys have great opportunity to move this pick thanks to the play of quarterbacks Joe Borrow, Tua Tagovailoa, and Justin Herbert so far this season. They are proving that taking a quarterback early is the only way you can change a franchise unless you are lucky enough to have one fall in your lap like Prescott.
Now this isn’t me saying that I want this team to outright tank the rest of the season but they can start to play some of the younger players to see what they have and what they will need next season. Plus I just have a feeling that this isn’t our season to win the division or make the playoffs.
Tom: Is it any NFC East team’s season to win the division? It sure doesn’t look like it. But someone has to, and there is just enough (OK, a lot more than enough) petty in me to want to point and laugh at the other teams by winning. Especially given those devastating injuries. Just having more fuel to pour on the “Carson Wentz is trash” fire is worth it.
Those are strictly personal preferences, however. The real point is establishing that winning attitude, or at least a belief that you are in games, no matter what. I am all for playing the younger guys, but as in the case of Neville Gallimore, it is more about what they can do to help, not just giving them game reps to develop. That is why I am in favor of starting Garrett Gilbert over Andy Dalton. Gilbert looked better than Dalton has, and the team seemed to perform better. On the other hand, some of that may be the offensive line finally starting to come together after being the hardest hit unit of the team. If the staff believes that to be the case, and that the Red Rifle will do even better with some actual protection, then I can understand the move. I still think Gilbert’s mobility is enough better to prefer him.
Nonetheless, I want every decision made to be with the full intent of having the best chance of getting wins. The upcoming opponents are not terribly intimidating, outside maybe the Baltimore Ravens. That doesn’t mean getting to the top of the NFCE will be easy. The Cowboys still have enough warts for a Brothers Grimm style witch. But five wins in the last seven games gets Dallas to 7-9, which would be the equivalent of running away with the division, I suspect. The next couple of games might dash that idea, but I want them going as hard as they can for the W every time they are out there - and succeeding more than they don’t.
Terence: This coaching staff will continue to do everything in their power to get back to winning and they should. Well, defensive coordinator Mike Nolan should. Stephen Jones has already come out and said that head coach Mike McCarthy is safe but he said nothing about anyone else on the staff. Based on the Cowboys’ strength of schedule they can continue to try to win and make the playoffs but we've seen this team in action and they just don't have the leader they need on the sidelines right now. If we had Prescott I would be with you on this but I still believe that after the mass exodus of players that have left with injuries, the Cowboys need to make sure they have the depth needed to contend in the future.
Right now we've seen that their depth is unproven and may lack the talent to help this team if more players go down. This is why getting a top draft pick is a good thing for the Cowboys. After seeing what Will McClay and McCarthy were able to pull off in the 2020 draft, just imagine the players they would be able to take in the draft this year. And with Covid-19 hindering teams from meeting players and games not being played it might be best to have a higher pick to get a proven player instead of someone who may be a one-year wonder.
Tom: I think McClay is great at his job, but there is no such thing as a sure bet in the draft. Just having high picks does not mean that the team would be much improved. This year was probably an outlier that will see regression to the mean in 2021.
It’s time to control what you can, which to me means putting the best effort on the field. The Cowboys will have some nice compensatory picks in any case, and still might have a shot at trading back even if they wind up with the lesser draft position due to getting into the playoffs. I just want the team to get a taste of success after such a horrible start to the season.