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The Cowboys are setting up Mike McCarthy to fail in 2022 if they go down this path

Sean Payton anyone?

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NFL Combine Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

Friday morning brought the bombshell that the Cowboys are expected to move on from wide receiver Amari Cooper, whose contract has an out this offseason, as they opt to try and re-sign Michael Gallup instead. Cooper’s out was written into the extension he signed just two years ago worth $100 million with $60 million guaranteed. Now, they’re expected to drop him to keep a receiver who played in just nine games this past year and is recovering from a torn ACL.

The potential decision was immediately panned by most everyone, and for good reason. Cooper has been a highly productive piece of the Cowboys offense since arriving in Dallas. As we all remember, they traded their 2019 first-round pick to get Cooper during the bye week in 2018, when the offense was stagnant. At the time Cooper was acquired, Dak Prescott was 24th in the NFL in expected points added (EPA) per play:

Quarterback efficiency 2018, Weeks 1-8, courtesy of rbsdm.com

Considering that Prescott ranked ninth in EPA per play in his first two years in the league, this sudden and dramatic drop in his performance was startling. Dumping Dez Bryant and Terrance Williams for Deonte Thompson and Allen Hurns clearly hadn’t worked.

After acquiring Cooper, the Cowboys offense took off and propelled them to the playoffs despite a dismal 3-5 start to the season. During that time, Prescott was 15th in the NFL EPA per play, a considerable leap.

Quarterback efficiency 2018, Weeks 9-17, courtesy of rbsdm.com

In Prescott’s three seasons since, all of which were played with Cooper, the quarterback has ranked tenth in the league in EPA per play:

Quarterback efficiency 2019-2021, courtesy of rbsdm.com

From a strictly football-related perspective, there is no legitimate reason to get rid of Cooper. Gallup has massively outperformed his draft pedigree but he isn’t quite on the same level of Cooper. CeeDee Lamb has also played very well in his first two years in the league, but has ultimately failed to live up to the hype he garnered on draft night.

More over, this is a Cowboys offense that faltered over the last half of the 2021 season. We’ll probably still be debating the exact cause of such a slump a decade from now, but the team never got over it, and it cost them in the playoffs. How exactly does cutting Cooper - who has amassed 3,893 yards and 27 touchdowns in three and a half seasons in Dallas - work towards solving those issues going forward?

We discussed all of Friday’s news in an emergency edition of a BTB Roundtable on the Blogging The Boys podcast network. Make sure to subscribe to our network so you don’t miss any of our shows! Apple devices can subscribe here and Spotify users can subscribe here.

The answer is that it likely doesn’t. And the explanation for why this is the route the Cowboys have chosen to take may be that they’re not so keen on fixing it for the 2022 season, but are instead looking towards the 2023 season, when they may be looking at a new head coach that may or may not be named Sean.

Jerry Jones went out of his way last month to talk about Sean Payton and also hint at Dan Quinn being a candidate for the top job in Dallas in the not so distant future. He also waxed poetic about Mike McCarthy’s own future:

“I’ve now had three times, quite similar circumstances, when (a coach) did stay here,” Jones said. “He stays here because there always has been, with every coach, every one of those three coaches, has said they’d love to be the head coach of the Cowboys. Every one. Every one.

“That has, in my mind, a lot of logic as to why they might not take a job now, (to) wait and see how the cards go in the future.”

“Mike knows that someday, somebody other than him will be coach of the Cowboys.”

Then came the NFL Combine, currently ongoing, where Stephen Jones had this to say when asked about McCarthy getting more directly involved in the Cowboys offense despite the team retaining offensive coordinator Kellen Moore:

“I think he’s more involved than you think he is. Let’s start with that,” Jones said. “But, no, I think he’s going to, knowing we need to take the next step. I think everybody is going to turn it up a notch, if you will.”

McCarthy himself has been adamant from the very beginning that the offense is Moore’s to run, and he’s often raved about the young coordinator’s prowess at running the offense. Perhaps McCarthy will, in fact, get more involved this year but Stephen’s comments seem, more than anything, to be the early seeds of pinning 2021’s late-season disappointments squarely on McCarthy’s shoulders.

Now, they’re rumored to be cutting their most productive receiver who also has a close bond with their franchise quarterback. Dalton Schultz, their most productive tight end over the last four years, is expected to at least hit the open market and might go elsewhere once he does. Ditto for Connor Williams, a starter on the offensive line the last four years. And the defense, which made unbelievable strides this past year, is destined for at least a small regression.

On top of it all, McCarthy has now had to give three different answers to the media about all the Sean Payton speculation. He insists that everything is good with him and the Joneses, and maybe it is. But everything was good between McCarthy and Aaron Rodgers, until suddenly it wasn’t. Tensions stewed between those two for years, and eventually it hit a breaking point.

Well, the pressure cooker that is the Dallas Cowboys spotlight often makes such tensions boil over before you know it. McCarthy certainly doesn’t like all the speculation about his job, but Jerry would have a hard time justifying firing a head coach who had just gone 12-5 in his second season with the team.

Replicating that kind of year was always going to be difficult in 2022. But doing so while losing talent on offense and having to work for someone who seems to be lining up interviews for your replacement already is a less-than-ideal environment for any success. It brings to mind the 2014 San Francisco 49ers, who seemed ready to run off Jim Harbaugh before the season had even begun.

The difference here is that the 49ers weren’t doing so after spending two decades playing footsie with a well-respected head coach who’s suddenly become available. The 49ers also didn’t just retain a key assistant coach with vague promises of one day taking the top job. The Cowboys, whether consciously or not, are setting McCarthy up to fail in 2022. And they probably already have a list of who they’d like to replace him with.