From the very beginning, the Cowboys’ decision to hire Mike McCarthy felt like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. McCarthy had always had a reputation of being an offensive mastermind first and foremost, calling plays for all but one year of his time in Green Bay. But in Dallas, McCarthy retained Kellen Moore as offensive coordinator and insisted he’d have total autonomy over the offense.
McCarthy, then, took on more of a CEO type of role for the Cowboys. That was a new role for him as McCarthy rarely, if ever, had a say in the front office decisions of the Packers organization. Even then, McCarthy was only allowed to be as much of a CEO as Jerry Jones - the actual CEO of the Dallas Cowboys - let him be. With respect to the locker room, McCarthy hired Rob Davis to a role specifically designated for managing the players and team morale. It was fair to wonder what exactly McCarthy did six days out of the week.
No more, or should I say, no Moore. Kellen Moore left for the same role with the Chargers in what seems like a genuinely mutual decision. McCarthy has taken over playcalling as a result, and while he’s been characteristically dodgy about how much of the offense will actually change, it seems likely that it’ll be at least somewhat different. Similarly, Davis is no longer with the team, and no other coach has been assigned to take over his role. Things are certainly different.
That’s not all, though, as the Cowboys’ offseason has already unfolded in a very different way from what fans have come to expect. The team has filled arguably its two biggest holes by trading Day 3 draft picks for established veterans in Stephon Gilmore and Brandin Cooks. Those moves accompanied some aggressive salary cap maneuvering by the Cowboys, which featured contract restructures for Zack Martin, Dak Prescott, and Michael Gallup, along with reworking Tyron Smith’s deal to just one remaining year, ensuring the future Hall of Famer’s return in the process.
Perhaps the most shocking move, though, was how this team seems to be handling the running back position. Jerry and Stephen Jones have long been upfront about their desire to control games through establishing the run, and thus desire bell-cow running backs. It was a big reason why Dallas drafted Ezekiel Elliott over Jalen Ramsey back in 2016, and why they caved to Elliott’s contract demands when he held out prior to the start of the 2019 season.
Well, the Cowboys appear to have radically changed their approach to the position now. They used the franchise tag on Tony Pollard and appear content to let him play on the tag for 2023 before reassessing things. Then they cut Elliott, designating him a post June 1st cut to save $10.9 million in cap space. And on Tuesday, they re-signed Rico Dowdle to a one year deal while also adding veteran Ronald Jones - who has two Super Bowl wins to his name - on a one-year deal of his own.
No more massive financial commitments to the least valuable position on offense, and multiple moves to secure low risk, high upside backs that. By doing this, Dallas has positioned themselves to pursue the best player available in the draft rather than feeling a need to draft a running back - or corner or receiver, for that matter - high just to fill a need.
There’s also no more sitting back and complaining that the Cowboys don’t have enough cap space. In previous years, Stephen Jones would cite Dak Prescott’s contract as an obstacle for the team, ignoring the fact that countless other teams with high-priced quarterbacks were able to manipulate the cap to field a competitive roster.
In a similar vein, the Cowboys haven’t settled for just re-signing “their guys.” While Dallas has re-signed players who were legitimately productive - such as Donovan Wilson, Leighton Vander Esch, and Dante Fowler - they haven’t as committed to extensions just for the sake of it as they have in the past. Noah Brown and Dalton Schultz are two well respected figures in the locker room, but Dallas let them walk despite being able to bring back them on cheap deals. The team has been aggressive in their attempts to upgrade the roster, a welcome change of pace.
Due to the way this organization operates, we’ll never really know how involved McCarthy was in these changes in philosophy. But there are hints sprinkled throughout. We know from his time in Green Bay that McCarthy doesn’t see a ton of value in running backs, and Cooks fits the exact type of profile that McCarthy’s offense requires.
There’s also just the basic logic that we know well and good by now how the team operates under the Joneses, as well as Will McClay. This offseason has been very different, so it’s not a huge jump to think that the head coach - fresh off gaining autonomy over the offense for the first time since he’s been here - has a big hand in the change in approach. Whoever is responsible, the aggressive roster building mindset is certainly a welcome one.