It seems like there has been nothing but rough seas for the Dallas Cowboys lately. This has led to feelings of doom and gloom around the Cowboys fanbase. It is hard to see a bright side when the organization keeps exhibiting deep set issues. But there is also a lot of recency bias involved in the pessimism. So as a counterargument to that, let’s bring up some things that give us hope that this upcoming season can be a good one. Here are some doses of optimism.
The first ever unanimous choice for Defensive Rookie of the Year could be the biggest asset on the field for the defense for years to come. He was not just outstanding among his draft class, he was one of the best defenders in the league. Whether rushing the passer or playing a more traditional linebacker role, he is outstanding, and there is little that can be added to the volumes of praise he has already received. Expect those number 11 jerseys to keep flying off the shelf.
During the latter half of last season, there was a great deal of discussion about the quarterback slump. Despite that, multiple post-season rankings have him in the top 10 at his position. That may indicate that the perception of his decline was overblown.
The most difficult and necessary position for any NFL team to fill is quarterback. Less than half the teams in the league have a true franchise player there. Just having it filled with someone who is among the top 10 among his peers provides the team with something to build on. Further, no one appears to be more dedicated to figuring out his own mistakes and improving himself than Prescott.
The rest of the roster
You need more than one standout player on each side of the ball to succeed in the league. According to PFF’s top 101 list for 2021, there are seven members of the Dallas roster that deserve recognition for their performances. That includes both Parsons and Prescott, and also includes offensive linemen Zack Martin, Tyron Smith, La’el Collins, Connor Williams, and WR CeeDee Lamb. It was surprising to many to see four members of a line that had its struggles on this list, although not many can argue too much about Martin being ranked the fourth best player in the league at any position, or in Parsons making the top 10. PFF claims to be objective in its rankings, but it is based on analyzing video.
That bakes in an element of subjective interpretation, so we are left hoping that they are not totally off base. Still, perhaps the cupboard is better stocked than some might think. Also, a player that was not on PFF’s list is Trevon Diggs. While he allowed a lot of yards in coverage, he also led the league in interceptions by a wide margin. He is a bit of a gambler in going after the ball. That will sometimes get him burned, but it is quite arguable that his impact when he does get his hands on the ball more than outweighs the busts.
Recognition for members of the Cowboys was not limited to players. Quinn was named Assistant Coach of the Year. Given the marked improvement we saw from the defense, that is not at all surprising.
Following that success, everyone assumed that Quinn would fill one of the numerous head coaching opportunities this year. His remaining with the team is a big plus. Reading between the lines a bit, he may well have turned down an offer. In any case, he brings not just coaching acumen but an energy that inspires everyone on the roster. It is good to have him back for a second year.
The appearance of Mike McCarthy’s spine
One of the things that was seen as a disturbance in the force for Dallas over the past couple of weeks was the somewhat acrimonious exchange between Jerry Jones and his head coach. While dismaying in many aspects, it also has a potential to turn out well for the team. With his strong desire to be so hands-on in running his team, Jones badly needs a head coach who will stand up to him and push back on the interference. McCarthy finally did just that. It was a bit of a bridge burning move, but he also has to be very aware that this is a make-or-break season for him. That requires an all-in approach to things, and in a way, he just pushed all the chips to the middle of the table. It may not turn out well for him, but he seems to be ready to fight for success and go down swinging. And if that includes getting more involved in the offense, meaning some closer supervision of Kellen Moore, all the better.
Free agency never nets much for the Cowboys. That is a major flaw in the approach of the team and leaves them overly dependent on the draft to acquire new talent. Fortunately, they have done well since McClay became more powerful in the draft process, particularly with their picks during the first two days. Last year saw a major home run with Parsons, a solid hit with Osa Odighizuwa, and both Kelvin Joseph and Jabril Cox may yet prove real assets. If you are going to lean so heavily on drafting, it really helps to have someone very good leading the way.
The rest of the NFC East
Dallas cruised to the division crown in 2021. While there has not been a repeat winner since 2004, this certainly seems like a great opportunity for the Cowboys to break that trend. All of their division rivals have questionable quarterback situations. Both the New York Giants and Washington Commanders are clearly in rebuilding modes, and both they and the Philadelphia Eagles could be looking to draft a QB in a year that has what is seen as a relatively weak talent pool at the position. There is no assurance that Dallas will have another sweep of the division to help pad their record. But there is not much evidence at this point to argue against the possibility, either.
So it is not all bad. There certainly are big challenges coming, particularly figuring out what they can do to retain some key free agents like Randy Gregory and Jayron Kearse. There are still some real reasons for optimism. Of course, if things go south, we will be having a very different discussion a year from now.