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Cowboys mailbag: Questions on playoff performance, defensive coordinator and player contracts

Our latest mailbag features plenty of questions about the Dallas Cowboys.

SPORTS-FBN-COWBOYS-COACH-FT Chris Torres/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

Every week, we take questions on X (Twitter) and Facebook about Dallas Cowboys players and other issues surrounding the team. So let’s get right into it.

“What would the priority be for a new defensive coordinator in Dallas?”

(Aaron Broke Martin via Facebook)

Brandon: Dan Quinn’s return to Dallas will be up to him, like last season and the one before. The Cowboys expect Quinn to come back as defensive coordinator if he doesn’t leave for a head coaching position. Quinn is in the middle of another interviewing cycle, with five franchises looking at him as their next head coach.

Those interviews should be concluded this week, but these things are on their timeline. I think it’s essential for Quinn to return, if he wants to, considering how much stock was put into last season’s draft class and where this defense is at in their development.

There’s no question things would need to change with how the defense approaches their linebacker position and run defense, but Quinn should be given one more season to see it through before someone else comes in to change it all up.

Mike: For any new coach or coordinator to come into Dallas and be successful, the main priority needs to be a guy that can handle the pressure and scrutiny that comes with the team. No team is under the microscope more than the Cowboys, and any coach coming in that’s hit by the bright lights and finds out that’s too much to handle, then that’s recipe for disaster.

Another priority is finding a coach that’s very blue collar and able to transition that work ethic to the players. With those two boxes checked, the defense stays in the elite category it topped at this season.

“After Sunday’s embarrassment, do you think it makes the decision easier to not renew player’s contracts?”

(Riley Braggington via Facebook)

Brandon: Yes and no. The argument could be made to blow the whole thing up and let the free agents walk, or you want to retain them because they’ll play essential roles for 2024 to get back to the playoffs.

I think it could make things easier if the staff feels a particular player’s lack of performance directly affected the game’s outcome. For instance, the running game in Dallas has been struggling all season. Tyler Biadasz and Tony Pollard are both free agents in 2024 that could warrant some money. If they couldn’t get it done against the Packers in the playoffs, will that change moving forward? Maybe not if the price isn’t right for the front office.

Mike: That’s tricky to comment on based on the fact each player needs to be looked at on an individual basis. The worth of the player and how much production they had during their contract needs to be the biggest factor, as opposed to one major loss in the playoffs. Is it worth having Dorance Armstrong back? He has been solid the last couple of seasons, but there could be a plan to keep Dante Fowler Jr. around instead.

Some players though seem a bit more obvious to let go to answer your question. Guys like Tony Pollard, Michael Gallup and Tyron Smith seem like they have had their time in Dallas and the front will look to find their replacement this offseason. But again, it’s body of work as apposed to their Wild Card performance.

“How much of a hangover will there be from Sunday’s disaster, and will it impact them next season?”

(Craig Sykes via Facebook)

Brandon: I don’t think there will be any hangover. The team faced a ton of pressure because of the expectations they set for themselves in training camp after losing to San Francisco in 2022. Now they sit at the bottom with their backs against the wall, the fanbase seemingly against them, and the decision to bring McCarthy back.

As owner Jerry Jones mentioned in his statement about McCarthy’s return, he said how they approach their roster will “deserve our deepest review and consideration.” With how little production the Cowboys got from their 2023 draft class, you could see them refocus their attention on finding impact players because of what happened this year in the playoffs.

Yes, winning a Super Bowl is the standard in Dallas, but after a performance like they had against Green Bay - it can’t get any worse - means it will only be up from there.

Mike: The hangover isn’t the biggest concern for me, it’s more the fact they’ve lost another playoff game early, only adding to the narrative they cannot win in the postseason, which in turn puts more pressure on the players when they make the playoffs again. The regular season has never been a problem for this team and the fact they’ve won 12 games in each of the last three years is testament to that. The problem is how another loss just adds more fuel to the fire when it gets closer to playoff time next season, and how the players will be able to handle it all over again (if they get there).

“What is the root cause for the Cowboys' woeful playoff record?”

(Alex Pickles via Facebook)

Brandon: If I had an excellent answer for you, the front office would have already hired me to help the Cowboys get over the hump finally. Unfortunately, there’s no answer I can give to justify what happened against the Packers mainly.

The team won 12 games, the offense was on a heater in the second half of the season, and the defense improved after the Miami Dolphins game. However, what’s been pointed out by many who cover the team is that Stephon Gilmore’s shoulder injury seemed to change Dallas’ entire defense.

They preferred to play more zone coverage to help Gilmore with potential limitations. That adjustment surrounding just one player cost Dallas dearly in the game. The Cowboys’ defense was a unit that played most of the season in man coverage, so deviating from it in the playoffs didn’t make sense.

The 2023 team had a chance to be special, but they over-complicated things, which cost them the game. That’s why keeping the team together in 2024 is crucial because they need to remember who they are and what made them great in the first place.

Mike: So the answer to the previous question is probably the best answer I can give. Why this happens each year is anyone’s guess, and there are plenty of conspiracy theories to answer this. This team hasn’t gone to the NFC Conference championship since the 90’s and with each season of failing to get there is more pressure added to the team. This is something that has built up over the years, getting compounded with each season’s failure. And this is something that’s built up long before Mike McCarthy and Dak Prescott’s time. But they just happen to be the most recent recipient of this level of overwhelming pressure, and that’s why each year it gets tougher to shake that monkey off their back. Simple answer, they let the pressure beat them.

Be sure to check Blogging The Boys as well as @kenfigkowboy and @brandoniswrite on X and also Facebook for the weekly post, asking for your questions to include in the weekly mailbag. Many thanks to everyone who send in your questions and votes.

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