The Cowboys 6-0 NFC East record from last season, where they outscored the Giants, Eagles, and Commanders by a combined 133 points, has been a driving point for the Dallas offseason. It feels like the Cowboys still have the core of players that can put them right back atop the East. This hope starts at the quarterback position, where Dak Prescott has the advantage against Daniel Jones, Jalen Hurts, and Carson Wentz. This isn’t to say the Cowboys rivals haven’t been more aggressive adding talent around their quarterbacks and roster as a whole, but Prescott is the only proven franchise signal caller currently in the division.
The position Prescott will likely have to make up for the biggest loss of talent is wide receiver. Amari Cooper and Cedrick Wilson are gone to the AFC, and replacements James Washington and rookie Jalen Tolbert are just working into offseason practices. The Cowboys will also be starting the season without Michael Gallup.
Would the Cowboys trade any of their receivers for those they’ll see twice a year in the division? As a way of looking at how much the other East teams have closed the gap on Dallas, here is a rebuild of the Cowboys offense using only players from the division.
Quarterbacks: Dak Prescott, Tyrod Taylor (NYG), Taylor Heinicke (WAS)
Again, having the starting quarterback on this pseudo all-division team is a significant advantage for the Cowboys. Prescott played through the rehab of his ankle injury last year, which at times limited his strength and mobility. If Prescott is even healthier this season, the gap between him and other QBs in the East could grow, putting Dallas firmly back in the playoff hunt.
Where the Cowboys could afford to upgrade is the backup position. Opting for younger players with potential under Mike McCarthy as opposed to the veterans that used to be backups here, the collection of Will Grier, Ben DiNucci, and Cooper Rush have likely all reached their potential. A more proven option like Tyrod Taylor with the Giants or Taylor Heinicke on the Commanders would give the Cowboys a better chance to win a few games without Prescott.
Running Backs: Ezekiel Elliott, Tony Pollard, Boston Scott (PHI)
This is another position where the Cowboys are justified to like the guys they have. With their current lack of depth at receiver, the team may be forced to find a bigger role for Tony Pollard behind Ezekiel Elliott, something fans have been clamoring for. The Cowboys have an opportunity to use Elliott as their workhorse back behind an improved offensive line, before potentially getting out of his contract in the offseason.
This would be very reminiscent of DeMarco Murray’s 2014 season, another year the Cowboys won twelve games and the division. The Cowboys one-two punch of Elliott and Pollard is as good as it gets around the NFL, but Boston Scott has played the RB3 role at a very high level for the Eagles.
The Cowboys may not have much of a need for any running backs beyond their top two, but in a perfect world Scott would be an upgrade over Rico Dowdle or JaQuan Hardy.
Wide Receiver: CeeDee Lamb, A.J. Brown (PHI), Michael Gallup, Terry McLaurin (WAS)
Here is where this exercise gets a little bit less fun. The Cowboys division opponents have made strides at receiver to help either their current QBs or those of the future.
Instead of stacking this depth chart with every team’s number one target, this position group is built like an actual receiving corps should be. Coming over in a trade from the Titans, A.J. Brown would pair with Lamb, putting Michael Gallup back in a familiar WR3 role.
The Cowboys also have to sort out their slot receiver position, with Lamb all but locked in to an outside role full-time. Simi Fehoko has a chance to earn snaps here as a second-year player, as does FA addition James Washington or third-round pick Jalen Tolbert. Instead, Terry McLaurin would give the Cowboys a receiver that thrives on creating separation, which brings out the best in Prescott’s game.
Both Giants receivers Kenny Golladay and Kadarius Toney were considerations here, but Brown’s ability to take over games by himself put him over the top. The Cowboys will need this trait from Lamb, and possibly Gallup upon his return, as well as another strong year in the takeaways department when defending some of these stud receivers around the East.
Tight End: Dalton Schultz, Dallas Goedert (PHI)
Eagles fans love to remind Cowboys faithful that they took Dallas Goedert one pick before the Cowboys drafted Connor Williams in 2018, sending the North Dakota native named after America’s Team to Philadelphia instead of his namesake city.
The Cowboys have seen much better production from Schultz over the last two seasons compared to Goedert, and Dak Prescott is “confident” the franchise-tagged TE will be here to stay. Behind Schultz, the Cowboys added Jake Ferguson in the draft with Sean McKeon and Jeremy Sprinkle still on the roster.
This group behind Schultz can be counted on to know the offense thanks to some experience, but Dallas is seriously lacking in pass catching ability beyond the top spot on the depth chart. Replacing any of these depth options with Goedert would be an immediate upgrade to the pass offense as a whole, giving the Cowboys a two tight end look that presents multiple challenges to a defense.
Tackle: Tyron Smith, Lane Johnson (PHI), Andre Dillard (PHI)
For as much as the Cowboys rivals have given their quarterbacks weapons on the outside and in the backfield, they face similar questions on the offensive line. The Cowboys will be relying on Tyron Smith and Terence Steele, two starting jobs that say a lot about both the present and future of this team.
The Cowboys chose this offseason to potentially address the future beyond Tyron Smith. The Cowboys left tackle started 11 games last season, and is still one of the game’s best when available. If Smith can’t go at any point this season, the plan could be for rookie left guard Tyler Smith to slide over. Tyler Smith may also prove himself a valuable enough guard in the run game for the Cowboys to look further down the roster at tackle depth.
At right tackle, the Cowboys are putting a lot of faith in Terence Steele to continue his rapid development as a starter. Steele’s development will say a lot about how the Cowboys are relying on young players not yet at their talent ceiling throughout the lineup.
Lane Johnson is a name very familiar to Cowboys fans, a steady starter on the Eagles offensive line since 2013. Johnson has earned some of the same praise as Steele throughout his career, being a coach’s favorite player that’s always working his craft. The Cowboys ending up with a similar player to Johnson would be an absolute best case scenario for Steele, but for the sake of trying to win now the better option is Johnson.
The Eagles also have the better backup with Andre Dillard compared to Josh Ball or Matt Waletzo. Dillard brings a nastiness in the run game and movement ability on the second level that Dallas covets in their own offense.
Interior Offensive Line: Andrew Norwell (WAS), Jason Kelce (PHI), Zack Martin
This position group has been a priority for the Cowboys to improve, and by drafting Smith they feel like they’ve done so. Smith will start alongside Tyler Biadasz at center and All-Pro Zack Martin at right guard.
While replacing Tyler Smith before he even plays a snap is maybe a bit unfair, the Commanders made a strong free agent addition in Andrew Norwell. His last deal with the Jaguars made him the highest paid guard in the league back in 2018, after an All-Pro season in 2017 with Carolina.
Norwell is a very technically sound player that will be asked to help protect Carson Wentz, a QB known to hold onto the ball and put pressure on his front to sustain blocks.
At center, the Cowboys passed on potentially upgrading from Biadasz in the draft, but do have Matt Farniok as a backup/swing player. None of these options come close to what the Eagles have had in Jason Kelce, a star at the position that not only Dallas but New York or Washington would love to have too.
Final Roster Counts:
The math here checks out in terms of who’s seen as the biggest threat to the Cowboys this season by the national media. If the Eagles can’t overtake the Cowboys this season, they have the draft capital to continue building a strong contender, making it even more crucial that Dallas capitalizes on any advantage they have on Philadelphia.
The Cowboys having the lead at QB here went a long way, and next we’ll look at how Dan Quinn’s defense going into year two stacks up with the rest of the division as well.