To say the Dallas Cowboys are about to enter this season under immense pressure would be an understatement. Dallas boasts one of the NFL’s best defenses, spearheaded by one of the game’s premier defenders, Micah Parsons. Offensively, they have two decorated offensive linemen, a budding star receiver, and an excellent quarterback in the form of CeeDee Lamb and Dak Prescott. From a coaching perspective, defensive coordinator Dan Quinn has a superb reputation in the NFL for his years of success, and head coach Mike McCarthy boasts a career-winning percentage of 61%.
The Cowboys have the components in place to contend for a title, and more than ever, it feels like the Cowboys now have to change a repetitive cycle failure at the end of the season. A process that sees the Cowboys have a good team that should push for a deep playoff run, only to fall short at the worst possible time. The worst examples would be the losses to the Mike McCarthy-led Green Bay Packers in 2014 and 2016. Now, it’s McCarthy who is under the most pressure to deliver success for the Cowboys.
The uncertainty beyond 2023
The complementary core of this team is on tenuous ground, and McCarthy has to capitalize on what he has. Entering the 2023 season, the Cowboys will have several key players playing under the final year of their contracts. Many aren’t considered upper-echelon talent but have been vital to the team’s success in recent years. Examples of some of those players are offensive tackle Terence Steele, who was injured last season but has become an outstanding run blocker since joining as an undrafted free agent in 2020. Center Tyler Biadasz is also due for a new contract after an excellent 2022 season culminating in a trip to the Pro Bowl.
Additionally, there are several critical free agent contracts the Cowboys have to address that are on the defensive side of the ball. Safety Jayron Kearse has been a versatile chess piece for the defense for the last two seasons and can play at all three levels of the Dallas defense. His contract will expire after this year. All-Pro cornerback Trevon Diggs is also in line for a new deal. Diggs had improved every season with the Cowboys and was arguably better in coverage last year than he was during his 2021 season when he was a candidate for Defensive Player of the Year. There is no doubt Diggs will command a contract at the top of the market that rivals the salaries of the NFL’s highest-paid. That alone brings uncertainty on whether this will be his final year with the team.
It takes work to keep a terrific coaching staff from year to year. Take the Philadelphia Eagles, for example. After winning the NFC East last season and making it to the Super Bowl, the Eagles lost both coordinators. Defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon was named head coach of the Arizona Cardinals, while offensive coordinator Shane Steichen was named head coach of the Indianapolis Colts. The Cowboys have been very fortunate to have kept Dan Quinn for as long as they have.
Quinn’s immediate results in turning around a porous Dallas defense in 2020 haven’t gone unnoticed. In recent years, teams have attempted to lure Quinn out of Dallas, with the Denver Broncos being the most recent to have come calling. The Cowboys cannot take Quinn’s contributions for granted. At this stage, each season the Cowboys have Quinn overseeing the defense is a gift. There are no guarantees this year isn’t his last season with the Cowboys.
Forging his legacy
Mike McCarthy has had to contend with several stigmas about his coaching career for many years. A scathing article written by Ty Dunne of Bleacher Report detailed the conclusion of McCarthy’s time in Green Bay. It contained accounts of McCarthy’s poor work habits that have been a stigma the head coach would like to dispel.
McCarthy also has an opportunity to prove that he wasn’t carried to a Super Bowl victory by soon-to-be Hall of Fame quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Suppose McCarthy can deliver a Super Bowl to the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. In that case, he can step out of the shadow of Aaron Rodgers and once again bask in the sunlight atop his own pedestal among the coaching greats in NFL history.
McCarthy can do something that has never been done before by winning a Super Bowl in Dallas. As of 2023, no head coach has won a Super Bowl for multiple teams. The only coaches capable of doing such a feat this season are him, Doug Pedersen, and Sean Payton. McCarthy winning a ring in Dallas after so many years of disappointment for the franchise over the last 25 years would elevate his legacy to unimaginable heights in the minds of many. Still, this year has excessive pressure on Mike McCarthy to do something big. His contract expires next season, and if the front office isn’t satisfied after this year, they may not allow the final year to play out. If McCarthy, with play-calling duties once again as one of his responsibilities, doesn’t have this team performing at a high level, it may be time to question if he’s still got it in him to lead a team to the pinnacle again.