The Dallas Cowboys are NFC East Champions. For the third straight season, they are in the playoffs and have a chance at the title. Of course, the last two seasons have ended in a failed spike and bumbling last play featuring Ezekiel Elliott being bulled over at center. Those aren’t good memories.
The Cowboys are hoping to give us some better memories this season as they go at it yet again. This year feels a little different. At times, they’ve felt on the top of the world, and then other times, it was as if we didn’t even recognize them. The opportunity that lays ahead of the Cowboys is a great one, and it needs to be seized. Not just for the immediate satisfaction it would provide us right, but because this might be the best chance at a Lombardi trophy, and here is why.
The Cowboys face tough offseason decisions every year. Last season, they moved on from Ezekiel Elliott and Dalton Schultz, and the year before that they let go of Amari Cooper, Randy Gregory, and La’el Collins. This offseason might sting a little more than those in recent years.
Tyron Smith, Tyler Biadasz, Stephon Gilmore, and Tony Pollard will all be unrestricted free agents. All of them are former Pro Bowlers. The team also has a slew of key defensive contributors hitting the market like Johnathan Hankins, Dorance Armstrong, Jayron Kearse, Jourdan Lewis, and Dante Fowler. The Cowboys might be able to keep one or two of these players, but we’d have to believe most of them will have played their last game in a Cowboys uniform.
The reason for this is that the Cowboys have some budget constraints. They are currently $11 million over the cap for 2024 (seventh worst in the league). They will do some restructuring, but they still have to be selective about which players they can re-sign. They also have some huge deals coming soon with contract extensions coming for Dak Prescott, CeeDee Lamb, and Micah Parsons. Those won’t be cheap.
As long as the Cowboys continue to draft well and backfill with talent, they should be okay, but at the same time, we shouldn’t take for granted the cast of characters they currently have on the roster. This is a group that is good enough to get it done.
It’s not just the group players that could change. The Cowboys could experience a shakeup atop the coaching ranks in Dallas. Everyone praises Mike McCarthy for having three straight 12-win seasons, but is that his doing? People praised Barry Switzer for winning a Super Bowl and even Wade Phillips for going 13-3 his first season, but like McCarthy, they all inherited strong teams. And as we know, those coaches weren’t the answer.
If McCarthy’s Cowboys have another underwhelming performance and finish disappointingly yet again, is Jerry Jones keeping him around? And what about Dan Quinn? Just how much longer will he assume the sidekick role in Dallas? It just feels like only a matter of time before another team can draw him away. One could make a case that the Cowboys’ three straight playoff seasons coincide with Quinn’s arrival in Dallas and not McCarthy’s.
McCarthy and Quinn have made it work so far, but three straight letdowns could cause this marriage to grow stale. Something might need to change to get the magic back. It’s also worth noting that Quinn’s defense has surrendered 19 points (2022) and 21 points (2021) in the playoffs against a good San Francisco team over the last two years, so they have done their part.
The Cowboys hold the number two seed in the NFC. It’s the highest seed they’ve had since 2016 when they held the top seed in the conference. As it stands now, they’ll play the seventh-seed Green Bay Packers on Sunday. And if they win that game, they’ll play either the Detroit Lions, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, or the slumping Philadelphia Eagles in the Divisional Round. Both the Cowboys’ next two playoff games would be at AT&T Stadium. They haven’t had two home playoff games since 1995, when they last won a Super Bowl.
The Cowboys wouldn’t cross paths with the NFC’s top team, the San Francisco 49ers, until the NFC Championship. This means the 28-year “can’t make it past the divisional round” curse has a great chance to be lifted and if they can put together a great game against the 49ers with a Purdy inexperienced quarterback, it could be on to Las Vegas for the Cowboys.
We thought the 19-year streak of no consecutive NFC East winner would be broken when it didn’t look like the Cowboys could catch the Eagles, but alas, the streak remains intact. And if it continues, the Cowboys won’t be taking down the East next year meaning a more difficult playoff journey lies ahead.
They also will have a first-place schedule which will feature non-common games against the San Francisco 49ers, and Detroit Lions. Add that to drawing the AFC North division next year where all four teams will be coming off a winning record, and three of them going to the playoffs. Nine of the Cowboys games next year will come against playoff teams.
THE OTHER STUFF
It’s been 50 years since a Cowboys quarterback (Roger Staubach, 1973) last led the NFL in touchdown passes, yet Prescott did it and has been mentioned as a possible league MVP candidate. This is also the first time over the last four seasons that Prescott has been completely healthy and not dealing with some nagging injury. Dak started every game this season. And we all just witnessed CeeDee Lamb’s incredible 227-yard performance against the Lions where he set a new franchise record for passes completed and yards.
On the other side of the ball, Parsons is once again considered one of the top defensive players and should get DPOY votes. He joins Hall of Famer Reggie White as the only two players with at least 13 sacks in each of his first three seasons in the league. Speaking of DPOY candidates, second-year corner DaRon Bland leads the league in interceptions and has a record-setting five picks returned for a touchdown this season.
And let’s not gloss over how remarkable Brandon Aubrey has been this season. He becomes the latest free agent signing who has produced a Pro Bowl season in his first year with the Cowboys.
- 2021 – John Fassel adds Bryan Anger PRO BOWL season
- 2022 – John Fassel adds KaVontae Turpin PRO BOWL season
- 2023 – John Fassel adds Brandon Aubrey PRO BOWL season
Make no Bones about it, that’s rather impressive.
When are the Cowboys going to have so many great things happen in the same season?
If the Cowboys aren’t able to make this count, they’ll get another chance next season. They’ll still be a good team, but the challenges they’ll face will likely end up being more difficult. Will their quarterback be healthy? Will they have more holes on their roster? Will their coaching staff undergo changes that will negatively impact them? Will they win every single home game again?
Many things could go differently next year which is why it’s so important for this Cowboys team to capitalize on the opportunity that is in front of them.