The Dallas Cowboys have not had double-digit win totals for three seasons in a row since 1994-1996. Now, in just his fourth season with Dallas, head coach Mike McCarthy has his team one win away from three straight 12-win seasons. But is it even possible that record might not be enough to keep the coach around for 2024 and beyond.
In Diana Russini’s latest article for The Athletic, she talked about the head coaching landscape across the league. At the end of the piece, Russini touches on the Cowboys' situation - entering Week 18 with a chance to win the division. She mentioned the Cowboys talked about the 2019 New England Patriots and how they can’t sleepwalk into the No. 2 seed.
In 2019, the Patriots were 14-point favorites over the Dolphins at home, looking to lock up the AFC East against a Miami team with not much to play for. But New England lost, then hosted a wild-card game against the Tennessee Titans the next week. It lost that game, too, and Tom Brady never played for the Patriots again. According to a league source, the message to the Cowboys this week was, “We can’t squander the No. 2 seed.”
If that happens? I would add Mike McCarthy to my list of coaches in trouble.
The playoff path is much harder for Dallas as the No. 5 seed if they were to miss out on winning the NFC East and drop all the way down to fifth. They would travel to the winner of the NFC South and then, if they win, face the daunting San Francisco 49ers. In 2019, when the Patriots lost to the Dolphins in Week 18, they still hosted a playoff game but faced the red-hot Tennessee Titans and lost, while the Titans made it to the AFC Championship that year.
The goal is to set yourself up for the best possible path to the Super Bowl, and the Cowboys hosting at least two playoff games at home would be best for them—considering the last quarterback to beat the Dallas at home was Tom Brady in Week 1 of 2022.
Could a loss in Washington mean McCarthy would be on thin ice entering the playoffs? If you don’t believe one NFL insider, Adam Schefter of ESPN, also talked about what he’s hearing from The Star, how vital this playoff run is and how it’s tied directly to McCarthy’s chances to stick around.
DALLAS COWBOYS: There continues to be a feeling from people around the league, and even some within the Cowboys organization, that coach Mike McCarthy will be measured by how Dallas’ final game goes.
If the Cowboys play well in the postseason, McCarthy would have an excellent chance to keep his job. But if they struggle and end the season with an embarrassing loss, as has happened in each of the past two years, then some say that change could come to Dallas.
The situation remains unsettled either way, and both the Cowboys and McCarthy — fairly or unfairly — have plenty to prove Sunday against Washington and then in the postseason.
The other factor is what the Cowboys will do with defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, who has interviewed for and been offered head-coaching jobs in each of the past two offseasons. Quinn has stayed with Dallas out of loyalty, because he felt strongly about the organization.
But there is a question about how long that will last and whether Dallas could coax him back for yet another season, which could factor into any decisions this team makes. The Cowboys do not want to lose Quinn, according to sources, and there are questions about what Dallas would be willing to do to keep him.
As Schefter states, fair or unfair, the standard in Dallas is to win championships. If McCarthy can’t accomplish that with clearly the best team he’s had since taking over, then everything seems open for discussion.
Could that include a potential promotion for defensive coordinator Dan Quinn? The front office loves how he’s changed the team on the defensive side of the ball and made them a consistently dominant unit. Quinn’s return to Dallas in 2023 surprised many, considering he was in a position for the Denver Broncos head coaching job. He stepped away from that and wanted to return and coach his guys.
Quinn’s name is already circling the league for potential openings, including the one in Los Angeles with the Chargers. If Dallas wants to keep Quinn from another head coaching cycle, could they let go of McCarthy in favor of keeping their defensive coordinator? Schefter’s last sentence could mean no one knows what the team will be willing to do to keep him around. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones could certainly shock everyone with something unprecedented.
Whatever the case, there seems to be a ripple effect that could stem from the outcome of Sunday’s game in Washington. If Dallas wins, locks up the NFC East, and the No. 2 seed, McCarthy should be on his way to securing a new contract as the leader of the Cowboys. If not, all multiverse options for his future with America’s Team are on the table.