It’s been a rough offseason for the Dallas Cowboys. They traded away Amari Cooper for peanuts, they outright released La’el Collins, and a long-term extension with EDGE Randy Gregory failed even though the money they supposedly saved from DeMarcus Lawrence’s new contract was supposed to go there.
This all came prior to doing not much at all in outside free agency while we saw playoffs teams improve their rosters by signing or trading for veteran players at positions of need. While it’s easy to be pessimistic about the upcoming season, there are also reasons that should give Cowboys fans optimism.
Dak Prescott is still the far-and-away best quarterback in the NFC East
While the end of the 2021 NFL season was a disappointing one for Dak Prescott and the Cowboys offense, too much of the blame was pointed at Prescott, and not the Cowboys offense struggling to block, run the football effectively, and not commit penalties that stalled drives before they could even get started.
While it’s easy to place blame on the guy who touches the football on every play, it’s also easy to evaluate why things didn’t go so well. The Cowboys passing game caused terror for defenses after a terrific first half of the season. With Dak Prescott near the top of the list of MVP candidates at the midway point of the season, defenses adjusted, and in doing so begged the Cowboys to run the football in order to find success on offense. The Cowboys failed to do so with any sort of consistency and that resulted in a numbers game, that did not favor Dak Prescott, Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb, Cedrick Wilson, Michael Gallup, and Dalton Schultz for most of the second half of the season.
Secondly, Dak dealt with his fair share of mental and physical hurdles in 2021. Working back from a nasty ankle injury that ended his 2020 season before it could get going, Dak spent most of his offseason rehabbing, attempting to get himself ready for camp, only to suffer a shoulder strain before that ball could get rolling. Nonetheless, Prescott came out firing on all cylinders when the regular season kicked off, before a calf injury in a week six win against the Patriots slowed him down again. The mental hurdle of working back from a 2021 injury was one thing, but then to have two other minor injuries slow down the progression was a lot to overcome for a guy that was being asked to handle a lot of the responsibilities for making the Cowboys offense work.
In 2022, expect a healthier, sharper, and more consistent Rayne Dakota Prescott, and that’s one of the biggest reasons Cowboys fans should still be excited for the upcoming season.
Dan Quinn and the defense in year two
While Dan Quinn’s defense in year one as defensive coordinator was one of the biggest improvements we’ve seen from a side of the ball in what feels like forever, year two could be just as special. Let me preface this by saying, defensive results are one of the hardest things to sustain in the NFL, so we could also see some regression from Quinn’s unit based on recent metrics.
With that being said, the Cowboys defense didn’t lose many contributors from 2021 to 2022, minus Randy Gregory. Keanu Neal and Damontae Kazee are no longer with the team, but neither player changed the aspect of the defense for Quinn and the Cowboys. By re-signing Jayron Kearse, Malik Hooker, Dorance Armstrong, Leighton Vander Esch, and Carlos Watkins, and with the additions of Dante Fowler, Sam Williams, and John Ridgeway, this group has the potential to take a step forward if there are jumps from Micah Parsons, Osa Odighizuwa, and healthy seasons from DeMarcus Lawrence, Neville Gallimore, and Trevon Diggs.
They’d have to be somewhat of an outlier to produce an even better 2022 season than they did in 2021, but it’s hard to bet against Quinn after what he showed in year one, and with Micah Parsons emerging as one of the best defenders in the NFL, there’s plenty to be excited about for the projected 2022 Cowboys defensive results.
Toughness over talent
While it’s a topic we may debate for the next 100 years, there’s no denying that the Cowboys valued toughness in the 2022 offseason over talent. With every draft pick, the Cowboys seemed to put an emphasis on tough minded individuals that play with some nastiness to their game.
At times, this front office and coaching staff have openly criticized players on the roster for maybe not playing up to the mental and physical toughness level they wanted out of their team. They’ve mentioned multiple times recently about not being tough enough in the 23-17 loss to the 49ers in the 2021 playoffs. While it’s concerning they lost some of their more talented players this offseason, it’s easy to see that they maybe valued the toughness, nastiness, and grind that some of these new additions will bring over the talent guys like Amari Cooper and La’el Collins may have had.
We’ll see how it plays out at the end of the season, but I do appreciate them going away from more of the finesse mentality that’s shadowed this team from quite some time.