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Cowboys ranked 3rd in Bill Barnwell’s best offseason rankings for ESPN

An NFL pundit weighs in on the Cowboys productive offseason.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys-Coach Mike McCarthy Press Conference Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

ESPN pundit Bill Barnwell has been doing a detailed analysis of the offseasons for all 32 NFL teams, ranking them from best to worst. He dropped his final 16 best offseasons in a recent article, and the NFC East placed three teams among the top four.

The Washington Commanders are deemed as having the best based on Daniel Snyder finally agreeing to sell the team. The series is based on moves that best set a team up to win a future Super Bowl, and eventually having Snyder out as owner is surely a move in the right direction for the Commanders, who still have a ways to go before being competitive for the title. The Philadelphia Eagles come in fourth, mainly lauded for their ability to find low-cost replacements under the salary cap after much of the pie was eaten up by Jalen Hurts’ new deal.

The Dallas Cowboys come in as having the third-best offseason according to Barnwell. But in reading the rundown of the Cowboys, it feels like a case of ‘damning with faint praise’. Each team section has three areas: what went right, what went wrong, and what is left to do. For a team that supposedly had the third-best offseason, the what went right section is surprisingly light, basically rooted in the trades for Stephon Gilmore and Brandin Cooks.

This is the last season in which the Cowboys project to have a player worth $30 million making $4 million [Micah Parsons], and after releasing running back Ezekiel Elliott, they acted with the appropriate level of aggressiveness. They filled two key holes in their lineup by trading for veterans Brandin Cooks and Stephon Gilmore. The new acquisitions will be paid a combined $22 million in 2023. I’m not sure they’ll be around Dallas for years to come, but given that it cost only two fifth-round picks and a sixth-round selection to add players in their prime to a championship contender, this certainly feels like a pair of well-timed additions.

Barnwell doesn’t really mention anything about the Cowboys draft, or their ability to keep Dan Quinn around for another year. Or really anything else. Granted the Gilmore and Cooks trades have been widely lauded, but for a team ranked third, there is very little on what went right.

As for what went wrong, there is a long detailed section about Barnwell’s dislike of the firing of Kellen Moore and his low confidence in Mike McCarthy being able to guide this team in the new-look, pass-happy NFL of today. A lot of it is centered on his belief that Moore is one of the better young offensive coordinators around. And this quote by McCarthy, which has become somewhat famous, underscores the direction the team might go in 2023.

“Kellen wants to light the scoreboard up,” he said, “but I want him to run the damn ball so I can rest my defense.” McCarthy framed this as a big-picture understanding of football that he possesses as a head coach and Moore lacked as a coordinator.

Barnwell then proceeds to dig into this in his usual detailed manner and found that McCarthy’s belief is pretty much out of step with the Cowboys’ recent statistics, and well as the prevailing winning trends in the NFL. For instance, he finds that the Cowboys defense did not tire and give up more points late in games because of the Cowboys passing a lot instead of grinding clock with the run game.

Have the Cowboys been struggling to close out games because the defense has gotten tired and declined? It’s true they have played fast, and as a result, the defense has faced a league-high 400 drives over the past two seasons. If you split how the Dallas defense performs by 15-snap buckets by expected points added (EPA) per play, though, Dan Quinn’s unit has actually been remarkably consistent as games have gone along. It actually is best late in games.

Barnwell also finds that the Cowboys weren’t exactly pass-happy like some other teams. He even notes that the pass-happy teams over the last two seasons were the more successful teams.

The nine most pass-heavy teams by that measure include both Super Bowl winners (the Chiefs and Rams), the two runners-up (the Bengals and Eagles) and two teams that won consecutive divisional titles (the Bills and Buccaneers).

Barnwell closes by noting what’s left to do, and that is contract extensions.

Lamb should be looking at an extension worth at least $26 million per season, while Diggs’ new deal should reset the top of the market at $22 million per campaign. If the Cowboys can manage to sign both while keeping their combined average annual value at or below $50 million per season, it would be good work.

It’s good to hear that observers, especially one as detailed and insightful as Barnwell, think the Cowboys had a great offseason, but it sure would have been nice to hear more about the good.

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