Earlier in the week, Cowboys fans got word that offensive coordinator Kellen Moore was likely staying in Dallas for another year, although he’s now one of three finalists for the Dolphins head coaching vacancy according to reports. Thursday morning brought a flurry of news that included both the Broncos and Bears hiring head coaches, and soon after we got word that defensive coordinator Dan Quinn was withdrawing from other head coaching vacancies to return to Dallas.
Unless the Cowboys suddenly decide to dump Mike McCarthy for Sean Payton this year - an idea that Payton has already quashed - it appears that the core of this Cowboys staff will remain the same. The biggest possible change to this staff now is defensive passing game coordinator Joe Whitt Jr., who has received several requests to interview for vacant defensive coordinator jobs. However, that could also change with Quinn staying put for at least one more season.
So there you have it: the Cowboys have avoided a nightmare scenario that would’ve found them needing to replace their top two assistant coaches after a 12-5 season that ended in disappointing and premature fashion. It wasn’t too long ago that Tony Romo was guaranteeing that Moore was definitely going to be a head coach in 2022, and it seemed like Quinn was a lock to leave this year until, suddenly, he wasn’t. The Cowboys managing to come out of this with both still on the payroll seemed like the least likely result, and yet it happened.
As exciting as this turn of events has been for Dallas, it doesn’t change the fact that the Cowboys are about to watch the 49ers - the team that bullied them for 60 straight minutes in their own home - play in the NFC Championship game. After watching the 49ers earn an ugly win in Lambeau while the Rams feasted on a weakened Buccaneers offensive line, it’s fair to wonder if Dallas could be playing this weekend had they performed better against San Francisco.
That’s why the real work begins now. Retaining Moore - undoubtedly one of the league’s bright young offensive minds right now - is a net win, but he’s still the coordinator whose offense looked hapless for three quarters of a Wild Card playoff game. And Quinn engineered an improbable defensive turnaround, but his defense ultimately let the Cowboys down against an offense they knew would try to run it down their throats. Both coordinators have room to improve.
Beyond that, the Cowboys will have to thwart the inevitability that is regression towards the mean. Our own Tom Ryle already addressed this back when it looked certain that Quinn would be leaving, and it’s still an issue with him staying.
On offense, both Michael Gallup and Cedrick Wilson have expiring contracts, as do Dalton Schultz and Connor Williams. Reserve players like Malik Turner, Jeremy Sprinkle, Corey Clement, and Ty Nsehke also have expiring contracts, even if they’re less of a priority. The Cowboys also have questions about the rest of their offensive line that they’ll need to answer.
The defense faces a taller task considering how hard it is for defenses to keep consistent levels of performance. We all saw how far the Washington Football Team’s mighty defense regressed this year, and they kept their coordinator and the vast majority of their starters. Dallas will have to make decisions on three of their four safeties, Jayron Kearse being the most notable one, on top of expiring contracts for Randy Gregory, Dorance Armstrong, Brent Urban, Carlos Watkins, Keanu Neal, and Leighton Vander Esch. That’s a lot of player movement on a side of the ball that’s ripe for variance on a year-to-year basis.
It was always going to be hard to improve in 2022 for the Cowboys. They finished first in the league in total DVOA while having the seventh-easiest schedule in the league based on DVOA. Next year, they’ll almost definitely have a harder schedule, and it’ll be hard just to be as efficient, if not more so.
The Cowboys know they squandered a great opportunity this year, and the plan is to get better and go farther next year. Holding onto Moore and Quinn is a good first step towards that goal, but that’s all it is: a first step. There’s a lot more work to be done between now and September, but knowing that the Cowboys will be running it back with the coaching staff that got them here makes things just a little bit easier.