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ESPN: ‘There’s a feeling around the league the Cowboys might have blown their best chance at a title’

People around the NFL seem to think regression is coming for Dallas.

NFL: NFC Wild Card Playoff-San Francisco 49ers at Dallas Cowboys Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

This offseason has gotten off to a rocky start for the Dallas Cowboys. There is the fact that Dallas disappointed in the playoffs yet again, living up to the meme of who people think they are. Mike McCarthy, Dak Prescott, CeeDee Lamb and others partly blamed officiating in the aftermath of their season-ending loss which only served the idea that they are not who they pretended to be throughout the 2021 campaign.

Morale among some fans is currently low. But things can always change when OTAs and minicamps start to land. Hope springs eternal as we all know, but before we can get to that point the Cowboys have to go through free agency and the 2022 NFL Draft.

It seems that the former may be a painful process for them. A very painful one.

“There’s a feeling around the league that the Cowboys might have blown their best chance at a title”

A big reason for Dallas’ success last season was the play of players like Randy Gregory who (sort of) came from nowhere. Gregory had obviously had success for the Cowboys before, but nothing like the sustained play we saw this past season. He is going to be a free agent soon and it feels rather important for the team to figure something out with him.

Of course, it is not just Gregory who is on an expiring contract. There are a number of notable Cowboys that are going to hit the market soon. This is part of the reason that some within NFL circles, according to ESPN, feel that the Cowboys squandered their best opportunity to win a Super Bowl this past season.

There’s a feeling around the league that the Cowboys might have blown their best chance at a title in the current window. They have a lot of offseason business to take care of, starting with the pass rush.

Randy Gregory is a free agent, and while they can hope he’ll work with them on a deal because they’ve stood by him through so much, it’d be hard for him to turn down a monster offer elsewhere just to stay in Dallas out of gratitude. DeMarcus Lawrence has no more guaranteed money left on his contract, and the Cowboys could save $8 million in cap space by cutting him. They could ask him to take a pay cut, but he might not say yes.

Wide receiver Amari Cooper’s deal was built, two years ago, for the Cowboys to get out of it this offseason. His $20 million 2022 salary becomes fully guaranteed on March 22, so look for the team to make a decision on him before then. Having drafted CeeDee Lamb in the first round in 2020, you wonder if they believe they’ve already found Cooper’s replacement (although Michael Gallup is injured and a free agent as well, so they might need to keep Cooper around one more year).

All of this, plus at some point they have to address an offensive line that hasn’t been able to stay healthy and isn’t the powerhouse it once was.

One more you should not expect to see is anything involving running back Ezekiel Elliott. He has $12.4 million in fully guaranteed salary coming his way this year. If they’re to move on from Elliott, it won’t be until the 2023 season at the earliest. — Graziano

Dan Graziano notes here what we have been talking about for a while - the Cowboys are going to have to make some decisions not only on free agents but on players like DeMarcus Lawrence and Amari Cooper. It seems strange for a team that is (theoretically) so close to move on from such important contributors, but Stephen Jones loves his salary cap savings.

The contractual side of football is just one avenue that Dallas has to navigate this season because they do have to replenish the offensive line as ESPN indicates. It will be tasked with blocking for Ezekiel Elliott for another season because, again as noted here, there is an extreme unlikelihood that the Cowboys move on from their beloved running back.

It is difficult to repeat success in the NFL in general, even for the best teams. But when you see a lot of turnover like the Cowboys might be about to, especially at high-contributing positions, things are all the more difficult.

For what it’s worth, the folks over at NFL.com don’t seem to think that the Cowboys are in the worst situation ever. They ranked Super Bowl windows and had Dallas in the top 10 at number eight.

Maybe Sean Payton’s the coach in 2023? Maybe Mike McCarthy wins the whole damn thing next season? It’s all in play.

I, for one, have always been a big McCarthy fan, so I was happy to have CeeDee Lamb raving about my guy to me on radio row last week. The Cowboys clearly have the talent. They have the quarterback, the receivers, the Micah Parsons-led defense. The NFC East remains weak beyond Dallas — and the NFC, as a whole, looks like it’s going to be pretty wide open for the next few years.

It’s time for “America’s Team” to finally live up to the hype.

It goes without saying that next season is rather important.