The Dallas Cowboys haven’t been back to the Super Bowl since Jan. 28th, 1996. If they want to get back in 2023, the roster will need more than WD-40 and duct tape to do it.
The Kansas City Chiefs have been to five straight AFC Championships, and the Philadelphia Eagles have been to two Super Bowls in five calendar years. Regardless of how fans feel about the Eagles, their front office has made moves to put their roster in the best position possible for success.
You don’t have to be a fan of the teams, but you can be a fan of how the teams are constructed. Here are a few tea leaves the Cowboys can follow if they want to host the Lombardi Trophy this decade.
#3. Follow the Eagles model at WR, not the Chiefs
The front office believed Dak Prescott could elevate the play of Allen Hurns, Tavon Austin, and Deonte Thompson in 2018. Then they traded for Amari Cooper before the trade deadline.
In 2022, the team bet on Michael Gallup’s health and Jalen Tolbert’s development to be farther along. The two most explosive players ended up being CeeDee Lamb and Tony Pollard.
Ownership needs to realize Prescott is a quarterback who can’t do it all alone, and that’s okay. After being embarrassed in the playoffs against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Howie Roseman realized the best way to help Jalen Hurts was to give him two No. 1 receivers on the outside to throw to. The Eagles were picking 18th in the 2022 NFL draft and decided to swap that pick with the Tennessee Titans for A.J. Brown.
Brown has been better than any player Philadelphia could have picked in the first round. He is now the team’s single-season receiving yards leader in his first campaign. Like the Eagles, the fastest way the Cowboys can get past the Divisional Round is by adding another bona fide No. 1 receiver. Lamb is the veteran that’s parallel to Brown, so if Dallas can draft a stud in the first round of the 2023 draft, the lineup of Lamb, Gallup, the rookie, and year two of Tolbert sounds pretty good to me.
#2. Going cheap at the running back position
Credit to BTB writer Dan Rogers for breaking this argument down in a recent article. The two starting running backs in the Super Bowl will be a back drafted in the second round and a seventh-round rookie. The days of giving up a top-ten pick on a running back in Dallas should be over.
The Cowboys have a difficult decision to make at the tailback position before the new season kicks off, with Ezekiel Elliott set to make $16.7 million and Tony Pollard being a free agent. As it stands, Elliott has mentioned taking a pay cut to remain in Dallas, and reports have alluded to the Cowboys using the franchise tag on Pollard.
Would it be crazy to think the front office could move on from both? The championship model of the Chiefs and Eagles says the Cowboys would be crazy to invest the money into that position.
Isiah Pacheco has a 2022 base salary of $705,000, and Miles Sanders, an impending free agent, has made a little over $1.2 million with Philadelphia this season. Because of their ability to squeeze as much talent as possible out of their backs for little money, it allowed the Eagles and Chiefs to allocate that money elsewhere to acquire more talent on offense.
It might be tough to justify keeping Elliott and Pollard on a roster that needs help elsewhere. When the season was over, I felt strongly about bringing both back after being a great one-two punch. Now, I’ve come around to the idea of keeping Pollard at the estimated $10 million tag price because he has position flex as a back and receiver. It’s a tough pill to swallow seeing Prescott without Elliott, but if that means the Cowboys get a Lombardi Trophy, it’s a reality that has to exist.
#1. Having a top-ten tight end helps the entire offense
Dalton Schultz was given the franchise tag in 2022 to stick around Dallas. After seeing positive signs from rookie tight ends Jake Ferguson and Peyton Hendershot, the Cowboys might be willing to finally move on from Schultz. It might be the wrong move.
Kansas City and Philadelphia have two top-ten tight ends in the NFL on their rosters. Travis Kelce is No. 1, and one can argue that when healthy, Dallas Goedert is one of the better players at his position. Regardless of where each ranks, they both play an integral role in the success of their offense.
It’s no coincidence in the games where Goedert had over 80 receiving yards (Weeks 2, 5, 9) this season, Jalen Hurts had a competition percentage of over 72 in each of those games and put up a quarterback rating of over 108 in two of them. Successful quarterbacks have a dynamic tight end to rely on as a weapon.
There’s no reason to get into too many stats around what Kelce has meant to Patrick Mahomes because it’s visually apparent. The one glaring stat line was Kelce’s 14 receptions on 18 targets in the Divisional Round against the Jacksonville Jaguars when Mahomes was playing on one leg. Having the safety valve and reliability of an elite tight end makes the difference.
For the Cowboys, Prescott has played his best ball when Schultz is healthy and getting throws his way. In games when Schultz was over 49 yards receiving in 2021 and 2022, Dallas’ record was 11-6, including playoffs. In those 17 games, Schultz was targeted 134 times between Cooper Rush and Prescott.
Schultz isn’t on Kelce’s level but has been as good as Geodert the previous two seasons. If the Cowboys’ front office wants to use the franchise tag, the decision might be between Pollard and Schultz. Following the Kansas City-Philadelphia roadmap, it’s important to lock down the tight end when running backs grow on trees.