The Dallas Cowboys seemed to be in a good position heading into the playoffs at the end of the 2021 season. They had a top-ranked offense, a defense that was opportunistic, and they were playing at home for the first game. Then the San Francisco 49ers came into Jerry World and bullied the Cowboys right out of the playoffs. That set up an offseason of anxiety for the faithful.
Immediately after the loss, owner Jerry Jones refused to fully commit to Mike McCarthy being the coach for the 2022 season. Jones later claimed he did this as sort of a “poker play” to keep defensive coordinator Dan Quinn around, but that really never made sense. The more likely reasoning is that Jones was waffling about his commitment to McCarthy after the bitter playoff loss.
It was thought at the time that the team might lose both coordinators, as Kellen Moore and Dan Quinn had interviews with other teams for head coaching positions. In the end, though, both returned to the fold and the Cowboys kept continuity in its coaching staff for 2022. Looks like that Sean Payton pursuit will have to wait for 2023.
Almost as soon as that was out of the way, the roster shakeup began. The Cowboys had to make a choice at wide receiver because Michael Gallup was going to be a free agent. His ACL injury at the end of the 2021 season complicated things, but essentially they couldn’t keep him, Amari Cooper and CeeDee Lamb, who was eventually going to get paid down the line. A choice had to be made. The Cowboys chose Gallup and traded Cooper to the Cleveland Browns for essentially a fifth-round draft pick.
This did not sit well with the fanbase. The word from around the Cowboys staff was that Cooper wasn’t performing up to his contract, and he wasn’t the type of hyper-committed player they desired around the locker room. If the team would have gotten more for Cooper in a trade, it might have gone down better with the fans, but there was the feeling the Cowboys didn’t do well in shopping him. It was more fuel for the “offseason of discontent” fire.
The Cowboys continued an overhaul of the roster. They released right tackle La’el Collins because of availability and commitment problems. This wasn’t that well received by fans who thought it left the offensive line a little thin. The Cowboys compounded that issue by letting starting left guard Connor Williams walk in free agency. They also lost defensive end Randy Gregory in a highly publicized last-minute free agent reversal when he spurned the Cowboys for the Denver Broncos.
To put it mildly, nobody thought the Cowboys were having a good offseason.
They did make some moves to strengthen the team. They re-signed Gallup to a contract. They franchise-tagged tight end Dalton Schultz. They brought back Jayron Kearse who had a spectacular 2021 at safety. DeMarcus Lawrence was extended to make his contract work for the salary cap. They also brought back a slew of their own internal free agents.
In typical fashion, they basically ignored the external free agent market by signing only two real “names” in wide receiver James Washington and defensive end Dante Fowler. As usual, the Cowboys wanted to build through the draft.
The Cowboys filled some of their holes by drafting a replacement left guard in the first round in the person of Tyler Smith. They also somewhat replaced Randy Gregory by drafting defensive end Sam Williams in the second round, and went for an Amari Cooper replacement in the third round by taking wide receiver Jalen Tolbert.
An objective reading of the Cowboys offseason would say that the roster got worse on paper. The Cowboys got rid of some of their talent without replacing them with known quantities. If you listen to the Cowboys’ brass, you can read between the lines that they thought some of their starters that they got rid of weren’t the type of players they wanted. Vague notions of availability and commitment were brought up, but production is production, and the Cowboys lost some of that for the 2022 offseason.
The team seems to be banking on an addition-by-subtraction philosophy and going with a younger, hungrier lineup. It’s a risky move, but given the Cowboys’ lack of playoff success in the past few decades, maybe a risk is exactly what they needed to take.