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Point-counterpoint: To tank or not to tank, that is the Cowboys question

For about the 47th time this year, the season looks hopeless and the Cowboys can only seek good draft position. Or maybe it’s still too early for that?

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Dallas Cowboys
Play to win, or just to lose respectably?
Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

It’s another fine mess the Cowboys have gotten themselves into. With a chance to stay at the top of the NFC East, admittedly not a towering objective, they had another miserable performance against the Washington Football Team. Not only did that mean they were swept by the Team, something that has not happened in a long time, they now only have five games left to play. After the rise in spirits following the win over the Minnesota Vikings, optimism has retreated and Team Tank is back in force. It just seems logical to accept that there is no real chance, and a high draft pick is the best outcome of the season.

At least our David Howman thinks so. Tom Ryle begs to disagree.

David: I’m not necessarily saying the Cowboys should tank in the sense that they intentionally try to lose games - that would be devastating to the culture of this team, especially after what these players and coaches went through this past week. But I do think it’s wise to shift gears from a mindset of “pull out all the stops to win each game” to one of “let’s play all of our young players and see what they can provide to us in the future.”

That includes Bradlee Anae, who’s been inactive the last three games, and Reggie Robinson, who has yet to suit up in a game. I’d also like to see if Francis Bernard and Luke Gifford (after his suspension ends) can provide anything of value on defense. At this point, with all the injuries the Cowboys have endured, it’s fool’s gold to think they can actually get any sort of value from a playoff berth. And with the alternative being a potential top-five draft pick, the long-term value is significantly higher with the latter and not the former.

Tom: Nope. I just don’t see it like that. I fail to see how losing games does the team any good. Specifically, I mean the human beings that put on pads and the guys wearing headsets on the sidelines. There is a psychic toll to losing that needs to be avoided. And the other side of that coin may be more important. Winning games, especially under the incredibly difficult situations that the Cowboys have faced, would be a huge boost to everyone involved. The players need that added confidence in themselves. Mike McCarthy and his staff do, too.

Besides, no football team that deserves the name should ever take the field with any other objective than winning. And frankly, if the Cowboys can overcome the latest round of shocks to the system, the rest of the schedule could lead to three or four wins. With how bad the division is, that could be just enough. They have to have some help from the rest of the teams in the NFC East stumbling. But if there is one thing that this year has proven, it is that they most certainly can.

David: There are two good examples of tanking in the NFL: The Hue Jackson Browns and the Brian Flores Dolphins. Jackson’s Browns tanked so hard, and without care for the consequences of losing, that they ended up getting Jackson fired halfway through his third year with a 3-36-1 record. Flores, on the other hand, spent his first year on the job building the culture he wanted - which seems to be a very similar culture to the one McCarthy has brought to Dallas - and is seeing great results this year, with a 6-4 record and legitimate shot at a Wild Card playoff berth, if not an outright division title.

Now, the Cowboys are a more talented roster, when healthy, than the Dolphins. And getting back Dak Prescott, Tyron Smith, La’el Collins, Zack Martin, Blake Jarwin, Trevon Diggs, and a few others next year will be a boost that few teams see in one offseason. It’d be very easy for McCarthy and the rest of the coaching staff to (credibly) write off this terrible year as one lost to devastating injuries. And McCarthy can (and already has, to some extent) set the tone in this locker room of what’s to be expected next year without sacrificing draft positioning. After all, with the state of this roster the way it is the Cowboys don’t exactly have to try to lose games. They’re starting at least 11 players who weren’t starters at the beginning of training camp between offense, defense, and special teams. That’s the kind of team that can tank without even trying to, which is perfect for the Cowboys’ current predicament.

Tom: But losing is still losing, and this team needs to believe in itself. We saw too often during the Jason Garrett regime when the team seemed to be just waiting for someone to come back from suspension or injury to try and get right. This edition desperately needs to show they can find a way to get into the win column even with all the missing pieces. While the talent is severely downgraded, they still have some strengths to play to, especially with the wide receiving corps and a surprisingly good Dalton Schultz. On defense, the line is starting to show what it can do with DeMarcus Lawrence, Aldon Smith, and Randy Gregory all contributing. Leighton Vander Esch seems to be finding his mojo, and Donovan Wilson is a heat-seeking missile looking to ruin someone’s day.

The biggest issue is that patchwork offensive line, which just keeps getting torn up. But they aren’t going to see a collection of pass rushers like the Team fields again this year. If Kellen Moore and Andy Dalton can just find ways to get the ball in the hands of the receivers, and maybe throw in some Tony Pollard, the Cowboys have a real chance in most of the remaining games. Even the Baltimore Ravens may not be so formidable as they struggle with their COVID outbreak.

Maybe it is a personal viewpoint, but I want to see this bunch prove to the world they have some good football in them. If it isn’t quite good enough to win the division, then take the resulting draft capital and go try to get better. But fight for every game. And just maybe, they will surprise us all.

David: Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to see the 6-10 Cowboys go on a wild run in the playoffs, or something like that. And looking at the state of the NFC’s Wild Card frontrunners, I’m not convinced they couldn’t pull off an upset in the Wild Card round as it is. But the odds of all that happening are increasingly small, meaning a playoff game would be ultimately meaningless.

Meanwhile, the Cowboys could end up with a top-five draft pick and either land themselves a generational talent or trade down for a bevvy of picks to fortify what should be a strong roster returning next year. With the way this NFL season has unfolded thus far, making something out of nothing will carry far less weight than a normal year anyway. Going out on a high note would certainly be welcome, but taking a rain check with great draft capital can be its very own high note.