If you are still stewing about how the playoffs ended for the Dallas Cowboys, well, that is so last season. Just take a little pride in being the last team to hand a loss to Tom Brady and turn your face to the future. There are going to be dramatic developments, controversial moves by the team, and lots of more or less routine actions that happen this time every year. And they can change significantly from week to week. So in no particular order, here are some things to watch very closely at the moment.
Will the offensive coordinator search go tried and true or get creative?
The departure of Kellen Moore is the biggest development to date in Dallas. It probably should not have come as a shock that reports emerged of friction between him and head coach Mike McCarthy. The biggest issues in both the final games of the regular season and the playoff loss to the San Francisco 49ers were on the offensive side of the ball. McCarthy is an offensive-minded coach and basically had to do almost nothing about the defense other than give Dan Quinn a swat on the butt back in September and tell him to get after it.
Now McCarthy is taking over play-calling duties on offense according to comments by Jerry Jones at the Senior Bowl, which will also mean the main responsibility for game-planning. At the time this was written, the only name to surface in the search for a new offensive coordinator is Jeff Nixon, running backs coach for the Carolina Panthers. This was met with some groans among the fans as one complaint about Moore was that he stuck with the run too much.
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But there is some logic in looking at a run-centered coach. It would let McCarthy focus on the passing game, and there would presumably be little risk of him being stubborn about running the ball. If Nixon or another run-oriented coach got the job, they would basically set McCarthy up with plays each week to match up with the opposing defense, and during the game McCarthy would just select off a menu, so to speak, when he wanted to run the ball. Getting the plays installed or practiced each week would also be in the job description for the offensive coordinator.
And there is another way to go on this. The Cowboys could hire two coordinators, for the running and the passing game. Their jobs would be to focus on that installation and practicing, allowing McCarthy to put the bulk of his efforts into building an overall game plan, scripting the first part of the game, and informing his coordinators what he needed from them each week to have an effective play sheet to work from.
If McCarthy were to bring in a passing guy that had a similar approach as McCarthy’s, this could work. We will have to see where it goes.
Does ownership truly grasp how bad the receiver situation is?
Let’s steal a trenchant summation.
With the Michael Gallup surgery news today, Dak Prescott was playing with Dennis Houston (cut), Noah Brown (career WR5), off left ACL/needing right knee & ankle surgery Gallup, James Washington (cut), Jalen Tolbert ( 2 catches), TY Hilton (off retirement) behind Lamb.. Wow.— Ernie (@es3_09) February 1, 2023
Dallas went with a variation on the “wide receiver by committee” idea they tried back in 2018. That year it failed so badly they had to trade for Amari Cooper midseason. This year’s twist was that they had one clear lead receiver in CeeDee Lamb, and while his season was quite successful, the rest of the crew was just not sufficient. Now they are back in pretty much the same place. You can also throw in that TE Dalton Schultz, who was often a security blanket for Dak Prescott, is a free agent again. If he does go elsewhere which is likely, they are gambling on Jake Ferguson and Peyton Hendershot to be able to fill his shoes.
News that Michael Gallup had surgery on his other leg, but is expected to be a full go for the offseason program this year, offers hope that the Cowboys will at least have WR1 and WR2 covered. But that still leaves a dearth of depth. Further, there may be a real issue with trying to rely on the main avenue Dallas uses for talent acquisition.
Got some senior bowl tape in last night and this morning.— Connor Livesay (@ConnorNFLDraft) February 1, 2023
The WR and OT group as a whole I thought had a really nice showing.
I like this tackle class, but the WR is one of the weaker ones in recent years. Would be nice to have a few risers come out over the next month or so.
Once again, the team really needs to take a different approach to free agency to try and ensure that the receiver group has the depth needed. They need to be willing to pony up enough of the pie to get at least a solid WR3, and maybe double dip for a good depth piece. That latter point should also be a consideration at TE, although they may have faith in Sean McKeon for that.
It will be something to discuss for a while. WR was seen as a major issue from the moment they traded Cooper last year. It still is.
Is offensive tackle looking better?
Terence Steele is another name on the long list of Cowboys free agents this year, and re-signing the starting right tackle should be a major priority. Tyler Smith looks like the future at the position. Now there might be another piece to this puzzle on the roster.
If the team can also find a good option at left guard so they don’t have to rely on Tyler to kick inside again in this moving parts scenario. Tyron Smith would be the best swing tackle in the NFL. And that would make his health far less of a concern since they would not have to worry about his inability over the years to play a complete season.
Are we about to see the end of the Ezekiel Elliott era in Dallas?
After years of being handcuffed to Elliott by his draft position and an equally unwise big second contract, the Cowboys can finally let him go and gain badly needed cap space. His performance last year, or lack of it, makes this seem the wisest course.
That leaves them with needing to get Tony Pollard back in the fold, but the most important part of this is the team acknowledging that running back is a position that is so easy to find more than adequate talent late in the draft, or through very affordable free agent acquisitions. For a front office that obsesses over how they have to divvy up that pie, this is an egregious misuse of resources. It is late, but this is a true opportunity to correct things.
It ain’t looking good, though.
Jerry Jones and Stephen Jones each said they want Zeke Elliott back. Stephen Jones said he didn't see a drop off with Elliott.— Calvin Watkins (@calvinwatkins) February 1, 2023
There are plenty of other questions involving such things as Prescott getting past his turnover issues from last season, the linebacking corps and trying to bring back Leighton Vander Esch, and how the secondary will shake out. It’s always an interesting offseason in Dallas.