After the Cowboys completed their blowout victory of the Eagles in Week 16, Mike McCarthy was asked about his offensive coordinator, Kellen Moore, being courted by Boise State to be their head coach. While McCarthy didn’t say anything one way or the other, the answer sure seemed to suggest he believed Moore would be accepting the job.
Less than a week later, the night before the Cowboys’ season finale, to be exact, Moore signed a contract extension with Dallas and said in a statement he was no longer a candidate for the Boise State job.
While this resulted in a big sigh of relief for the Cowboys, it should also serve as a notice of just how narrow the team’s championship window is right now. It’s strange to think that about a team whose biggest stars are all under 28-years-old and just finished up their first year under a new head coach, but the Cowboys must strike before all their talent, both on the roster and in the coaching room, gets broken up.
Moore is the most obvious example. Last year, his offense finished first in the NFL in yards and second in offensive DVOA. While they were in the bottom half of the league in DVOA this year, Moore’s unit still managed to finish 12th in yards despite having four different quarterbacks start throughout the season, in addition to a host of injuries along the offensive line.
Around the football world, everyone more or less knows that Moore is an up-and-coming offensive mind in the mold of Sean McVay and Kyle Shanahan, and it’s only a matter of time before he gets a head coaching offer he can’t refuse. The interest from Boise State was unique because of his connections to the school, but it also gets the conversation formally started on his head coaching candidacy going forward. Assuming that the return of key starters, notably Dak Prescott, leads to another great offensive performance next year, it’ll become more difficult to keep Moore around.
Speaking of Dak, the quarterback offers another complication to the championship window. While the expectation is that he’ll be back next season for the Cowboys, Prescott is not actually under contract yet, having played this season on the franchise tag. With the season officially over, Dallas can start negotiating on a long-term deal, but there still exists the very real possibility that Dallas will simply tag him again. Jerry and Stephen Jones have been pretty clear on their love for Dak, who has also been very open about his desire to stay in Dallas long term, but the fact is there’s a lot of uncertainty around the quarterback position right now.
Then there’s the supporting cast on offense. While the defense is very much a work in progress and will likely receive lots of attention this offseason, the offense is filled with difference-makers right now. The offensive line in particular has two future Hall of Famers in Tyron Smith and Zack Martin, as well as very good players in La’el Collins and Connor Williams. But Smith is 30 years old and hasn’t played a full season since 2015, while Martin is the same age. Collins will be 28 by the start of the 2021 season and his inability to play even a single game in 2020 brings a little cause for concern.
At wide receiver, the Cowboys may very well have the best trio in the NFL with Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, and CeeDee Lamb. Cooper just signed a huge five-year extension, but it has a potential out after the 2021 season worked into it. That’s because the Cowboys will have to make a tough decision in that offseason, since Gallup’s rookie contract will be running out. And with the early returns on Lamb looking very promising, it’s virtually impossible the Cowboys can keep all three of these receivers long term. In other words, they’ll likely have to choose between Cooper and Gallup following the 2021 season, and there’s not really an obvious answer there, at least not right now.
Long story short, the Cowboys are in position to lose a good chunk of their offense following the 2021 season to free agency or retirement, and that’s assuming there aren’t any surprise retirements this offseason. And on top of that, Moore could very well be leaving for a head coaching job soon after that as well. So if the Cowboys want to capitalize on this perfect storm of an offense they’ve built, highlighted by an elite receiving corps and an ideal relationship between the quarterback and play-caller, they will have a narrow opening to get it right. But hey, no pressure.