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Can Cowboys avoid overreacting to 2020 season and keep a cool head heading into 2021?

Fire the coaches! Cut the players! Churn the roster! Send a message! - If you were to run an NFL team based on knee-jerk commentary about your team, you wouldn’t last long.

Dallas Cowboys Introduce Head Coach Mike McCarthy Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

As football fans, we’ve been conditioned to overreact to everything. A win produces unbridled optimism, and we immediately clear our calendars for a deep playoff run. A loss results in a state of apocalyptic panic where we want to fire every coach on the staff, and just as precaution, fire everybody else who was ever on the Cowboys staff in the past, just to make sure.

And this overreaction tends to linger, especially when your team sports a 3-8 record, and it can linger way beyond the season and well into the offseason, possibly even all the way to the draft.

At some point, you enter a permanent state of overreaction. In Cowboys Nation, that permanent state of overreaction has been in place for the last 25 seasons, alleviated only by the occasional playoff appearance. Every perceived problem is magnified into a crisis.

  • The offensive line: clearly in crisis. All-Pros dropping like flies, All-Joes getting an “A” for effort, but little else.
  • The QB position: clearly in crisis. Cowboys went three deep into their backup QB rotation and have nothing to show for it.
  • The running game: clearly in crisis, averaging a paltry 112 yards per game and fumbling the ball away seemingly every game. And let’s all be mad at what the Cowboys are paying 3.9-YPA Elliott.
  • The wide receivers: not in crisis, but let’s bring on the crisis by trading one of them away.
  • The secondary: clearly in crisis and it’s not even debatable. And who the heck allowed Byron Jones to leave for Miami anyway?
  • The linebackers: clearly in crisis. When veteran linebackers still bite on play-action, when some of your fastest defenders consistently run in the wrong direction, and when your linebackers tackle like men possessed but can’t diagnose a play to save their life, you’re in crisis.
  • The defensive line: clearly in crisis. Can’t stop the run, who’s that guy in the middle anyway, and why don’t they GeT MoRe SacKs aNyWaY? Crisis, crisis, crisis.

Include coaching and the ownership to that list, and you basically have a year-round template of knee-jerk commentary about the Cowboys. Add the nattering nabobs of negativity broadcasting their fluff unhindered across all social media platforms and you might come away thinking Jerry Jones is Satan’s Spawn, or that the Cowboys must absolutely, unequivocally draft a QB, a CB and a DT, all preferably in the first round.

For the Cowboys, the key to 2021 will be about not overreacting to the 2020 season, but keeping a cool head instead.

Every team makes mistakes in the draft and in free agency. Not all draft picks pan out the way they were expected to. Not all free agents deliver the performance you were hoping for. But just because you’re 3-8 doesn’t mean everything stinks. The Cowboys must attack the offseason with a sense of urgency, but also with a cool head.

Even if everybody is screaming for you to draft a QB in the first round doesn’t mean you have to. Just because every premier free agent defensive tackle is linked to the Cowboys doesn’t mean you have to sign one of them.

But you have to have a plan for how to address the issues you’ve identified. And yes, that plan includes signing your franchise QB to a gazillion dollar contract, addressing the backup QB and DT positions among others, just maybe not in the way social media and the screaming headlines want you to.

If you’re the GM looking at the 2020 Cowboys, you’re seeing a team that couldn’t step up when its starting QB went down, which was my express thought the minute Dak Prescott went down.

As the GM, you need to ask yourself what you need to do to make sure the 2021 team can step up when the starting QB goes down again. Because the issues with this team go way beyond just missing your starting QB.

There’s no question that the 2020 Cowboys are playing hard, but ultimately it’s just not enough.

And that’s especially true for the stars on the team. They just weren’t able to do enough to compensate for the injury to their QB.

The Cowboys lucked into Tony Romo and Dak Prescott, and both have carried this team for years. But when the time came for others to carry that weight, they couldn’t. They fumbled away the ball when the team could least afford to, they couldn’t get a stop when they needed to have one, they couldn’t catch a ball that was thrown right into their hands when it mattered most, and they committed penalties at the most inopportune moments.

If you’re the GM, you’re seeing that all the recent teams you’ve put together couldn’t step up when the starting QB went down.

  • In 2010, the Cowboys lost Romo after six games and finished 6-10.
  • In 2015, Romo started just four games and the team finished 4-12
  • This year, the Cowboys lost Prescott in Week 5 and have gone 1-5 since.

At the same time, you’re watching the 2020 Saints not miss a beat with backup Taysom Hill stepping in for Drew Brees, and not too long ago, you watched the darned Eagles win the Super Bowl with their backup QB. So as the GM, you’ve got to wonder whether your roster-building approach is too heavily reliant on super-hero play from the QB position (Dak Prescott still leads the league in 400+ passing games despite being out since Week 5).

If your answer to fixing the team is ‘get a better backup QB’ or ‘draft a new franchise QB’, then you’re probably going to repeat the mistakes that got you into this mess in the first place: you’re asking one guy to carry the team all by himself again.

If the only way your system works is by having a guy play QB at elite levels, then your system is broken. And whoever you bring in, backup QB or rookie franchise QB, will eventually break too.

So now the question becomes, what do you need to do to make sure next year’s team can step up when the starting QB goes down again? And who are the guys on this year’s team that you’ll be able to count on next year to carry the weight when the QB goes down again. And if this year’s stars couldn’t do it, then find some new players who can.

But that will require a very cool head.

Do you think the Cowboys are up to that task?