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Should Cowboys fans consider just a return to the playoffs as a successful season?

Calculating the level of success needed to consider the Cowboys 2020 season a real success.

NFL: Combine Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

As training camp 2020 limps along, there seems to be a growing optimism that we will have football in the fall. As with all things pandemic-related, this could change at any time. Players have yet to put on the pads and get into contact, an activity that will blow through some of the social-distancing guidelines and represents the next big hurdle. Still, it looks possible that the 2020 season will happen.

If it does happen, what would a “successful season” mean for the Dallas Cowboys? To some extent, just playing a season would be a success, not just for the Cowboys but for the NFL and the fans. But getting back to specific success for Dallas, ESPN took on that question for the NFC East teams. Todd Archer supplied the answer for the Cowboys to the question of what would constitute a successful season.

Simple — get to the playoffs. There have been previous Cowboys’ seasons that have had “Super Bowl or bust” feelings to them, but considering coach Mike McCarthy did not have a traditional offseason to fully implement his program, the expectations should be dialed back. McCarthy’s résumé is better than any new NFL head coach this season. He went to the playoffs nine times with the Green Bay Packers, a conference title four times and won a Super Bowl. The Cowboys have not made it to an NFC Championship Game or Super Bowl since 1995.

Let’s pause it right there. Would the Cowboys just getting back to the playoffs be considered a success? Obviously the answer to that question would differ for each individual, but in the context of recent history, it feels like it would be somewhat of a letdown to just accomplish that.

The Cowboys have been to the playoffs multiple times in recent years, and even tasted a playoff win over the Seattle Seahawks. Three out of the last six seasons have seen the Cowboys make the playoffs, but the lack of success in the playoffs is partly responsible for Jason Garrett being relieved of his duties this past offseason.

On the one hand, Archer notes the unusual offseason that new head coach Mike McCarthy has had to navigate. This is absolutely the worst offseason to install a new head coach with no OTAs, minicamps or preseason games to really institute his plans and get a feel for the roster. This can’t be ignored.

On the other hand, it’s hard for some fans to dial back expectations, as Archer cautions, simply because of the wealth of talent on the Cowboys roster.

There is talent, especially on offense with quarterback Dak Prescott, running back Ezekiel Elliott, wide receivers Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup and CeeDee Lamb, and offensive linemen Tyron Smith and Zack Martin. There are questions on defense — pass rush and the ability to take the ball away — but the Cowboys might be able to mask some of those issues with a prolific offense.

There is a pervasive feeling that Jason Garrett and company somewhat wasted the talent they had by not being aggressive enough, and innovative enough. Even on the defensive side of the ball, which mainly belonged to Rod Marinelli and not Garrett, the feeling is that the scheme had gone stale and was not utilizing the talent to its fullest.

All of this led to a feeling that it was the coaches that were really holding this roster back, that it was too talented to be finishing with 8-8 records. That is why there was close to a total house-cleaning among the coaching staff, with only Kellen Moore, Doug Nussmeier and Leon Lett surviving the purge.

But should we expect more than just the playoffs? And if so, how much more? Would a run at the Super Bowl really be realistic? Archer cautions no.

The Cowboys had similar talent on offense and questions on defense a year ago and missed the playoffs, leading to the hiring of McCarthy. While some might have Super Bowl thoughts, just getting to the tournament is a more proper expectation. — Archer

What’s your take BTB? What level of success would be considered a success this year?